What you need to know
Analysts say the #MeToo activists being captured on trial, reflects Beijing’s paranoia toward private gatherings and their determination to suppress any form of activism.
By William Yang
TAIPEI — Two prominent Chinese activists were tried for subversion Friday in Guangzhou in a closed-door proceeding, while supporters and activists criticized Chinese authorities for putting on a “sham trial” and calling for their immediate release.
Independent Chinese journalist Huang Xueqin, who became prominent after covering China’s #MeToo Movement, and labor rights activist Wang Jianbing were arrested by Chinese police in September 2021 in Guangzhou. They were charged with “inciting subversion of state power” the following month.
Huang and Wang have been in detention for two years without trial and their supporters only learned about the date and location of the trial this week. In a September 17th statement, a group of their supporters accused authorities of fabricating charges against Huang and Wang and intentionally delaying the trial.
“We are outraged that the authorities keep delaying the trial,” the supporters said on a webpage dedicated to the case.
Analysts say the case reflects Beijing’s paranoia toward private gatherings organized by activists and their determination to suppress any form of activism.
“The Chinese government already decimated civil society a decade ago, but they think the informal friendships between activists are some sort of network and they want to dismantle that network,” William Nee, research and advocacy coordinator at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a U.S-based activist network, told VOA by phone.
Apart from suppressing any form of activism, Nee said he thinks the arrest may also be Chinese authorities’ retaliation against Huang, who has covered many issues deemed sensitive by Beijing, including Hong Kong’s anti-extradition bill protest in 2019 and China’s #MeToo Movement.
“She may be facing retaliation for some of her journalistic efforts,” he said.
During China’s #MeToo Movement in 2018, Huang set up a social media platform for reporting sexual harassment cases in China. She also published surveys concluding that sexual harassment was a serious problem in universities and workplaces.
In 2019, she joined the protest in Hong Kong and published an online article detailing her observations. Later, she was arrested and detained for several months. For his part, Wang has advocated for the rights of workers and those with disabilities.
Some activists say Huang and Wang have become targets of the Chinese crackdown because Beijing views them as part of a new generation of activists.
“They want to go after activists who have ideas, the drive to execute those ideas, and the willingness to support each other,” Zhou Fengsuo, a former Tiananmen Square protest student leader, told VOA by phone.
Chinese authorities have not openly commented on the status of the case. VOA made several phone calls to the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court on Friday but the calls went unanswered.
Reducing public attention on the case through secrecy
Authorities blocked roads around the court and prevented anyone from approaching or gathering near the court, according to images shared by Huang and Wang’s anonymous support group.
Reuters reported that diplomats from seven Western countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany, France, and the Netherlands, were denied entry to the court when they tried to attend the trial.
The secrecy surrounding Huang and Wang’s case reflects an emerging trend in China, with authorities preventing the publicizing of information about sensitive human rights cases, human rights advocates said.
“Trials of sensitive human rights cases used to attract a lot of public attention, but now, Chinese authorities are trying to make these trials very mysterious,” Yaqiu Wang, China research director at Freedom House, told VOA by phone.
“In addition to that, Chinese authorities also make the process of the case very long and fragmented, resulting in fewer media attention and an increased difficulty to advocate for the detained activists,” she said.
Apart from burying the case in secrecy, authorities also tried to silence and intimidate people around Huang and Wang. According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, they organized weekly gatherings at Wang’s Guangzhou residence for like-minded Chinese citizens, and their topics of discussion ranged from feminism to LGBTQ+ rights and labor issues.
“Up to 70 people may have been questioned in relation to this case, and based on what these people said, it seems like the authorities are building a case against Huang and Wang,” Chinese Human Rights Defenders’ Nee told VOA. “They were viewed as the focus of some sort of network and authorities perhaps view these informal friendships as a potential political threat.”
Some observers say the opacity of Huang and Wang’s case is having a chilling effect in China because no one can determine where the red line is when it comes to organizing any type of activity.
“The effect of this chilling effect is no one knows what will be the outcome of their actions,” Lu Pin, a prominent Chinese feminist, told VOA in a phone interview.
“When you are in an opaque system, it’s like being in a black box, where no one can see or hear you, and you can’t identify the red lines. As a result, no one can effectively prevent themselves from crossing the red line,” she added.
Ongoing health concerns in detention
After being detained for two years, supporters said Huang’s menstruation had stopped and she also suffered from dramatic weight loss and persistent back pain.
“Different sources confirm that Huang was often woken up in the middle of the night for interrogation,” her support group wrote in an online statement in February.
“We strongly believe that these abusive interrogation methods are the main cause of all of the above-mentioned physical and mental health symptoms.”
Some information for this report came from Reuters.
The News Lens has been authorized to publish this article from Voice of America.
TNL Editor: Kim Chan (@thenewslensintl)
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