Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Finally Free -- For Now

The five women activists who were released on bail Monday evening
After months of lobbying internationally, including by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden, as well as Chinese rights campaigners, five women activists were finally released on bail yesterday evening.

They were detained on the weekend of March 8, International Women's Day, when they were planning to demonstrate against sexual harassment on public transport. They were picked up on suspicion of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble".

The campaign to get them released that featured the tag #FreeTheFive included strong words from American presidential candidate Hilary Clinton and Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations.

The quintet were released because prosecutors did not immediately decide to press criminal charges, and instead police asked that the five be charged with organizing a crowd to disturb public order.

Wei Tingting, 26, Wang Man, 32, Zheng Churan, 25, Li Tingting, 25 and Wu Rongrong, 30 have been released on bail, but would be monitored by the police for one year, and could not travel without informing the authorities. They could be detained by police at anytime and interrogated further.

On Friday, Kerry made a statement saying China should "immediately and unconditionally" free the five women.

"Each and every one of us has the right to speak out against sexual harassment and the many other injustices that millions of women and girls suffer around the world each and every day," he said. "We strongly support the efforts of these activists to make progress on these challenging issues, and we believe that Chinese authorities should also support them, not silence them."

On Monday afternoon, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that China "lodged representations" with the US over those comments and that "the Chinese legal authorities are handling this case in accordance with the law."

The actual campaign that they were organizing through We Chat was supposed to have people handing out leaflets and stickers on buses and subway carriages to call attention to sexual harassment on public transportation.

This crackdown on activists who weren't doing anything political, and instead trying to promote a civil society, is quite harsh, and perhaps is meant to scare other rights campaigners from continuing their activities. Or does the government consider them a threat because they are pointing out the truth?

These five women are not new to activism -- in 2012 they campaigned for more public toilets for women, and in 2013-14, campaigned against domestic violence.

They are only doing what they believe is right and just, though they are sticking their necks out to do so.

We are relieved they are released, though not unconditionally is worrying. These women are pushing for civil society, and they are trying to do this through non-violent means. So why detain them? What they are doing is for the good of everyone, and doesn't the Chinese government want its society to look just and equal?

Beijing is only creating more embarrassment for itself domestically and on the international stage...

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