China: #MeToo activists facing ‘baseless’ trial must be released now

Journalist Sophia Huang Xueqin was arrested the day before leaving to study in the UK © South China Morning Post via Getty Images

One of the activists was arrested before leaving China to study in the UK

32 organisations issue call for activists’ immediate and unconditional release

‘Activists in China refuse to be silenced despite the serious risks of raising their voices to address so-called "sensitive" issues’ – Sarah Brooks

Two Chinese activists whose trial in Guangzhou begins tomorrow (22 Sept) face lengthy prison terms simply because Beijing authorities fear their peaceful activism, Amnesty International said today as it joined dozens of civil society groups in calling for their release.

#MeToo activist Sophia Huang Xueqin and labour activist Wang Jianbing are accused of “inciting subversion of state power” and face prison sentences of up to five years or longer if they are considered “ringleaders”.

Amnesty and more than 30 other NGOs issued a joint statement today demanding the authorities immediately and unconditionally release the activists and drop the charges against them.

Sophia Huang Xueqin, a journalist, has been involved in several #MeToo campaigns providing support and assistance to survivors of sexual assault and harassment, and Wang Jianbing, who has provided legal support for people with disabilities and workers with occupational diseases, is also a prominent supporter of the #MeToo movement in China.

The pair were arrested in the Chinese city of Guangzhou on 19 September 2021, the day before Huang was planning to leave China for the UK to study for a master’s degree. Their detention is believed to be related to their attendance at weekly gatherings with fellow activists, hosted by Wang Jianbing.

Activists cut off from family

Since their arrest, both activists have been prevented from seeing family members and dozens of their friends have been summoned by the police and had their homes searched and devices confiscated. Sophie Huang Xueqin is believed to have been subjected to ill-treatment in detention, leading to the dramatic deterioration of her health.

Sarah Brooks, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for China, said:

“Sophia Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing represent the courageous wave of younger Chinese activists who have connected with the public concerned about social issues.

“They have been targeted for their peaceful activism on women’s and labour rights by a Government that fears organised dissent.

“These baseless charges are motivated purely by the Chinese authorities’ relentless determination to crush critical voices. But activists in China refuse to be silenced despite the serious risks of raising their voices to address so-called ’sensitive’ issues.

“Across the globe, the #MeToo movement has helped empower survivors of sexual violence. Yet in China, #MeToo activism is met with arrest, prosecution and ill-treatment.

“This case perfectly illustrates the dire state of freedom of expression in the country and how it prevents the full realisation of women’s rights.”

The full list of 32 signatories to the joint statement can be found here.

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