5 Chinese feminists still under detention

5 Chinese feminists still under detention

They are seasoned activists in China - two young feminists with a penchant for attention-grabbing campaigns for gender equality.

They made their first splash in the media in February 2012, when Ms Li Tingting and Ms Wei Tingting wore wedding dresses splattered in red paint to protest against domestic violence.

Ms Li later stormed male toilets in the widely publicised Occupy Male Toilets campaign, calling for potty parity - equitable provision of washroom facilities for men and women - laws.

The two women also shaved their heads bald in August 2012 to protest against gender bias in Chinese universities. But two days before International Women's Day on March 8, the authorities had had enough.

They detained the two women along with two other feminists, Ms Wang Man in Beijing and Ms Zheng Churan in southern Guangzhou city. A fifth activist, Ms Wu Rongrong, was arrested in the coastal city of Hangzhou a day later.

The five women were detained for their plans to hand out leaflets to raise awareness about molestation on public transport on March 8.

A month on, all five, who are aged 30 and below, are still in detention, with no word from the authorities, said Ms Wei's lawyer, Mr Liu Qiushi.

He added that only the family of one of the women has been formally served with a detention notice.

Foreign calls for the release of the women have been to no avail.

Rejecting the European Union and United States envoy to the United Nations Samantha Power's call for the feminists' release last week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said: "No one has the right to ask China to release relevant persons, so we hope that relevant people will stop interfering in China's judicial sovereignty in such a manner."

The arrests shocked Chinese civil society. Speaking on the phone from Beijing, leading feminist Feng Yuan said: "We still don't understand it - they were arrested for something that they hadn't even carried out."

Underlining the unexpected nature of the detentions, woman activist Xiao Meili, speaking to The Sunday Times a month ago, said she felt the high-profile campaigns had been acceptable to the authorities because of their "gentle approach and "avoidance of sensitive issues". She could not be reached yesterday.

Ms Xiao, who is close to the detained feminists and had taken part in their protests, said she felt feminist activism was gratifying as the Ministry of Education had cited "grassroots activism" when it banned universities in 2013 from recruiting students based on gender.

Lawyers said the authorities will decide whether to formally arrest or release the activists on Tuesday. Mr Liang Xiaojun, who is representing Ms Wu, is optimistic that they will be released. He said: "They have been detained for a charge of picking quarrels and provoking trouble, but they have not committed a crime, and there is no proof of crime. In fact, the Constitution provides for civil society."

The detentions have muted civil society activities in the last month.

Ms Feng, who has taken part in non-governmental organisation activities for more than 20 years, said she was not fearful because "I know I am working for gender equality, which is legal and constitutional".

"But I used to adopt a more righteous tone to my work. This tone is now tinged with worry."

She added that she was more concerned about the morale of younger activists.

"The detentions have definitely impacted civil society. Young people did not see this coming since the Chinese Constitution provides for gender equality. People definitely feel afraid now," said Ms Feng.

"But this incident has also created buzz on social media. Those who were not interested in gender equality issues have been prompted to look into them now."

xinen@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 5, 2015.
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