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Chinese Women Who Fight for Human Rights Face Reprisals from Party: Group

"The Chinese government has intensified suppression of women’s rights advocates, including NGOs advocating for women’s rights, in recent years," the report said.

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Wang Xiaoli, a women's rights activist from the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu, in undated photo. RFA

Women who campaign for human rights in China face reprisals from the ruling Chinese Communist Party, including enforced disappearances,arbitrary detention, sexual abuse and torture, an overseas rights group has said.

Since the death of rights activist Cao Shunli in a police detention center five years ago, women who challenge official abuse of power are still in a vulnerable situation, the overseas based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network said, in a report released ahead of International Women’s Day on Friday.

“The Chinese government has intensified suppression of women’s rightsadvocates, including NGOs advocating for women’s rights, in recent years,” the report said.

It said activist Jin Shunnü died in October 2018 in detention on charges related to “national security,” but when her family filed a complaint in January calling on Fushan city authorities to investigate, officials refused to give the family any explanation.

When the killers of women in custody are brought to justice, theirsentences can be relatively light, the report said, citing the prison terms handed down to seven officials convicted over Li Shulian’s 2009 death by torture in an extralegal “black jail” in Longkou, Shandong.

Cao died aged 52 on March 14, 2014 after she was denied medical treatment for months while in detention, according to her brother and fellow activists who blasted the government for using medical care as leverage to silence critics.

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“The Chinese government has intensified suppression of women’s rights advocates, including NGOs advocating for women’s rights, in recent years,” the report said. Pixabay

Her lawyers had made repeated requests for her release to allow her toreceive medical treatment, but no action was taken until she was seriously ill. She suffered from tuberculosis in both her lungs, cirrhosis of the liver, and uterine fibroids.

Cao was detained as she set out for Switzerland to take part in a U.N.Human Rights Council review in September 2013.

Since then, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has targeted civilorganizations including the Beijing Yirenping Center, a public health and anti-discrimination NGO, the Weizhiming Women’s Center in Hangzhou, which had run campaigns against gender discrimination, violence against women and sexual harassment, and the Beijing Zhongze Women’s Legal Counseling Service Center, which provided legal assistance to women, CHRD said.

“While the #MeToo movement sparked a conversation in 2018, mainlyonline, about sexual harassment in China, it also led to some backlash and widespread censorship,” the group said.

“Authorities also shut down Sina Weibo and Tencent WeChat accounts ofthe group Feminist Voices in March,” it said.

Far fewer feminist voices in 2019

Wang Xiaoli, a women’s rights activist from the eastern province of Jiangsu, said she had noticed far fewer feminist voices on China’s tightly controlled internet on this year’s International Women’s Day than in previous years.

She said a petition calling for better rights for women had appeared on social media, but had garnered scant support.

“A few dozen people signed, but then after that, nobody signed at all, that I could see,” Wang said. “There are so few people signing petitions these days; a lot of feminists are afraid to express their views.”

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“While the #MeToo movement sparked a conversation in 2018, mainly online, about sexual harassment in China, it also led to some backlash and widespread censorship,” the group said. Pixabay

“It’s not like it was a few years ago; the suppression by the ChineseCommunist Party is very harsh,” she said. “Nobody’s going to stand there holding placards … because that would get you detained for ‘picking quarrels and stirring up trouble’.”

Wang said that government crackdowns appeared to be working, as veryfew people are now willing to express support for women’s rights in China now.

Rights lawyer Wang Shengsheng said the administration of President XiJinping, who is currently serving an indefinite term in office, regards anyone who campaigns for anyone’s rights as a threat.

“It doesn’t matter what rights you are fighting for; they will regard your actions as illegal,” Wang Shengsheng said. “There are now very tight controls on freedom of thought and expression, whether it is to do with feminism or something else.”

“[They are] preventing [civil rights] from developing, to the extent of sending them into reverse.”

According to CHRD, an estimated 976 activists and dissidents are currently under enforced disappearance, pretrial detention, or in prison in China.

Many women who have tried to defend human rights in China have facedpersecution, including arbitrary detention, torture and inhumanepunishment by medical deprivation, the group said, citing the cases oflawyer Li Yuhan, activists Liu Ping, Li Xiaoling and Su Changlan and citizen journalists Ding Lingjie and Wang Jing, among many others.

“Persecuted women [rights activists] often face sexual harassment,” it said. “Several women … spoke out in 2018, accusing policemen of subjecting them to degrading treatment by forcing them to undergo strip searches,and sexual harassment to intimidate them.”

House arrest for lawyer’s wife

CHRD said Xu Yan, wife of detained human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng,lawyer Sun Shihua and activist Zhang Lifang were among them.

Unidentified people wearing the red armbands of citizen security details in Beijing placed Xu under house arrest on Friday, she told RFA.

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“The Chinese government has intensified suppression of women’s rights advocates, including NGOs advocating for women’s rights, in recent years,” the report said. Pixabay

Xu, who is now under the guard of around a dozen police officers andneighborhood officials at her Beijing apartment, said her surveillance had been ordered by the Shijingshan district state security police.

“I just went out to the corridor and found several people sitting in the corridor,” she said. “They wouldn’t let me go out.”

“There were about 12 of them blocking the corridor … so I didn’t go outtoday,” Xu said. “These people are on duty are on duty 24 hours a day, all through the night.”

The move comes after Xu wrote last month to Li Zhanshu, chairman of the National People’s Congress of China, and several vice-chairmen andsecretary-generals, urging them to strengthen supervision of the judiciary.

ALSO READ: South-East Asian Women on Women’s Day Call for Equal Opportunities, Lament War and Repression

Other wives, sisters and mothers of detained prisoners of conscience have also faced harsh retaliation from authorities, CHRD said, citing the beating and detention last December of Huang Qi’s mother Pu Wenqing, 86.

“To silence her, police detained Pu in a secret location for more than one month and only released her into house arrest as her health seriously deteriorated,” CHRD said.

Authorities have also hit back at campaigning women and their childrenwith detention, abduction, housing eviction, restricted movement, banned travel abroad, and constant surveillance and monitoring, it said. (RFA)

Next Story

Human Rights in Cambodia Concludes on Note: Peace Without Justice is Unsustainable

I think there are a number of areas which the government is working towards in basic human rights, and there are a number of areas that I have identified and discussed with the government to vet human rights and also to increase in hand the number of indicators and targets and plans for meeting the development goals.

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UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith (L) speaks to reporters at a press conference in Phnom Penh, May 9, 2019. RFA

Rhona Smith, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia, concluded her seventh visit to the Southeast Asian nation on Thursday with a list of recommendations for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government of ways to improve human rights and make the country’s political space more inclusive. She advised the government to identify those most at risk of being left behind by development efforts, called for protections of the right to peaceful assembly and association, and urged authorities to avoid excessive use of force in the policing of assemblies. Smith also called for the release of opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha from detention, where he has been held while under investigation for “treason,” general legal reforms to ensure that all Cambodians have access to justice, and a greater operating space for civil society.

Despite her comprehensive investigation into the situation of human rights in Cambodia, government spokesman Phay Siphan dismissed her recommendations as politically motivated, calling the fate of Kem Sokha a matter of the court and suggesting that NGOs in the country are “serving political purposes.” Smith spoke to RFA’s Khmer Service on Thursday about her visit and discussed how the country’s government can better safeguard rights for all Cambodians.

RFA: My first question is about your impression or observation regarding the [request] to visit Kem Sokha. Would you have any kind of statement to make regarding this again?

Smith: I regret that I was unable to get permission in order to go and meet with … Kem Sokha and the investigating judge was not able to meet with me either.

RFA: What would be your purpose of visiting him, should you be allowed to meet him?

Smith: I’m an independent expert appointed by the human rights council. I should be able to meet with persons in detention anywhere in Cambodia.

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I welcome some of the indications of openness and willingness, for example, to engage with civil society to try to address access to justice and to redress some of the problems I’ve identified with corruption and bribery. Pixabay

RFA: Do you think that Kem Sokha will be released any time soon?

Smith: In my view, Kem Sokha remains under detention and I’ve called upon the government and, indeed, the investigating judge to express my hope that Kem Sokha’s investigation is swiftly completed. It’s now been more than 18 months and either the trial can proceed or if there’s no … evidence for a trial, then the charges against him are definitively dropped.

RFA: Recently during your visit, the Battambang Court issued at least 26 warrants for 26 CNRP officials to appear before the court regarding their political activities. Do you think this is a breach of human rights in Cambodia amid your visit?

Smith: I believe it’s indicative of the lack of political space in Cambodia and I have concerns in that regard. And it is my hope that there will be a new opening for political culture in Cambodia based on dialogue and mutual respect.

RFA: Regarding these CNRP officials, of course, after the CNRP dissolution in late 2017, and also the reallocation of the seats of those elected commune councilors—5,007 commune councilors had to relinquish their positions to the ruling party and other parties—have you seen any progress in the democratic space in Cambodia since your last visit?

Smith: I see no tangible changes to the political space in Cambodia since my last visit.

RFA: In your last report in August, you made several recommendations—a lot of which concerned the freedom and human rights situation. During this visit, have you noticed any significant change or improvement based on those recommendations?

Smith: In most of the government meetings I have had, the government minister has taken time to update me on the changes that have been made since my last visit in their area of responsibility and also on responses to my recommendations.

RFA: So are you satisfied or, at least, what is your impression regarding these responses?

Smith: I think that there has been improvement in some areas of human rights in Cambodia since my last visit, and I welcome some of the indications of openness and willingness, for example, to engage with civil society to try to address access to justice and to redress some of the problems I’ve identified with corruption and bribery.

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If they work on pursuing the development goals, that will help embed human rights principles and provide targets and indicators that could be ambitious for the government to work towards and, in doing so, that would strengthen human rights … for everyone. Pixabay

RFA: Back to what you have indicated, time and again, that peace and prosperity are in line with human rights, respect and democracy. Do you still maintain this position?

Smith: Yes, it is still my view that peace without justice is unsustainable and development without freedoms will risk leaving people behind.

Also Read: World Gold Council Explains Why Indians Consider Gold Still The Best Security

RFA: What would be your call for the government of Cambodia to do now, based on what you feel are the priorities during this visit?

Smith: That’s a difficult question to answer. I think there are a number of areas which the government is working towards in basic human rights, and there are a number of areas that I have identified and discussed with the government to vet human rights and also to increase in hand the number of indicators and targets and plans for meeting the development goals. If they work on pursuing the development goals, that will help embed human rights principles and provide targets and indicators that could be ambitious for the government to work towards and, in doing so, that would strengthen human rights … for everyone. (RFA)