A Chinese court handed down a three-year suspended jail sentence for a prominent labor activist based in the southern city of Guangzhou on Monday, while two other defendants were given 18-month suspended sentences, a lawyer and rights group said.
Zeng Feiyang, director of the Panyu Migrant Workers Center in the city, had been detained for “disturbing social order” in December as part of a crackdown on labor rights defenders in southern China, home to tens of thousands of factories.
Rights groups say the current clampdown on dissent is the most sweeping in two decades in China, where a slowing economy has led to a surge in labor disputes, particularly in the southern manufacturing powerhouse of Guangdong province, of which Guangzhou is the capital.
“Under the current environment, it is a relatively good result,” said human rights lawyer Chen Xuejin who formerly represented Zeng and who had been in touch with Zeng’s lawyer.
“(But) if they want to continue their labor activism or do anything that the government doesn’t like, they may be thrown to jail immediately.”
Zeng’s lawyer wasn’t reachable for comment and calls to the People’s court in Panyu went unanswered.
Zeng is one of China’s most prominent labor activists, many of whom have campaigned for the legal rights of workers, such as proper work contracts and social insurance contributions.
Xinhua state news agency said in December that “workers’ representatives” believed his real motive was to “incite workers to strike, create a social impact, interfere with factories’ normal production and disturb social order”.
Zeng and other activists “forced factories’ leaders into submission and incited workers to surround law enforcement agencies, causing a very bad impact on society,” Xinhua said.
Despite the seemingly lenient sentences, Chen said their rights work would likely be curtailed in the short term.
“This will be like a restraining curse restricting what they can do. For example if they want to continue their labor activism or do anything that the government doesn’t like, they may be thrown into jail immediately,” said Chen.
William Nee, a China researcher at rights group Amnesty International, said the targeting of Zeng and others could backfire with labor disputes on the rise as China’s economy slows and as factory bosses try to cut costs.
“The government will still have a big problem at hand regardless of whether the Panyu Migrant Workers’ Center exists,” Nee said. “They can’t ignore the workers’ grievances, especially because in the vast majority of cases what the workers are demanding, they have 100 percent right to demand.”
(Reporting by Venus Wu and James Pomfret; Editing by Nick Macfie)
Notes from human rights activists: Lai Shengqi served as Zeng Feiyang’s lawyer. Tang Jian and Zhu Xiaomei, were sentenced to one and a half years in prison with two-year suspensions, said William Nee, a China researcher in Hong Kong for Amnesty International.
Group denounces trials of China labor activists
Hong Kong | Sep 26, 2016 14:23
A group of activists staged a protest outside Beijing’s Liaison Office in Western in support of three mainland labor activists who have been put on trial in Guangdong for allegedly gathering crowds to disturb social order.
The three are affiliated with the Guangdong Panyu Migrant Workers’ Centre that mediated with factories on behalf of striking workers.
They were arrested during a coordinated crackdown on labor activists in December.
The protesters marched from Western Police Station to the Liaison Office.
The chief executive of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, Mung Siu-tat, called for the unconditional release of the three activists.-RTHK
From The Telegraph
The three had had all worked at the Panyu Workers’ Centre in the southern province of Guangdong and had been in detention since last December.
Among the trio is the centre’s manager, Zeng Feiyang, who was handed a four-year suspended sentence, a close friend told The Telegraph on Tuesday.
Zeng’s mother, Chen Wenyin, had previously told The Telegraph about her anguish after state media reported “slurs” that her son had defrauded workers and used prostitutes, in what she described as “trial by media”.
His colleagues at the centre, Tang Huanxing and Zhu Xiaomei, were each given 18-month suspended sentences at a court hearing Monday, the friend said.
The activists were said by state media to have been charged with “disturbing social order”, a phrase often used by China’s stability-obsessed authorities to clampdown on dissent.
Images of the court proceedings shown on state television showed Zeng admitting to receiving funding and training from “overseas organisations hostile to China”.
Chinese media has previously been accused of showing ‘forced confessions’ of opponents of Beijing.
The three activities had helped many workers achieve better pay and conditions, their supporters say.
Authorities had previously tolerated such calls from Chinese workers when the economy was booming.
But the recent slowdown has seen a shift in manufacturing to other parts of Asia where lower wages are paid – such as Vietnam – and this has become a concern for Beijing.
The closure of factories is more common in China’s southern manufacturing heartland.
Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, has promised to strengthen the rule of law, and Beijing says that it is acting to ensure the fair treatment of suspects.
However, human rights groups said President Xi is overseeing a wide-ranging crackdown on civil society which has seen lawyers, activists and government critics being targeted.
Independent trade unions are banned in China, which recognises only the All-China Federation of Trade Unions as a means of solving disputes.
Peace and Freedom was also told the China Labor Bulletin in 2015 recorded more than 2,700 labor protests and strikes in China, more than double the number in 2014. In December, the Chinese government picked up and arrested several know labor activists in an effort to put an end to the labor strikes and demands.
China Frees Wang Yu, Human Rights Lawyer, After Videotaped Confession
BEIJING — A prominent lawyer jailed as part of a crackdown on human rights lawyers in China has been released from detention, according to news reports on Monday, even as her colleagues suggested that a videotaped confession she had offered had probably been coerced.
The lawyer, Wang Yu, was detained last year as part of a campaign by President Xi Jinping to weaken a burgeoning human rights movement, which the ruling Communist Party views as a threat to its grip on power.
In a televised confession on Monday, Ms. Wang, a leading figure in the movement, delivered a scathing rebuke of her profession, accusing colleagues of pursuing wealth and fame and suggesting that foreign activists were conspiring to smear the Chinese government.
“I won’t be used by them anymore,” Ms. Wang said in a video posted by The Paper, a news site controlled by the Communist Party.
The video mimicked the style of several recent confessions broadcast by the state news media, in which activists, publishers and lawyers offer admissions of guilt that seem to be aimed at discouraging dissent. Critics of the government have questioned the authenticity of the confessions, dismissing them as propaganda tools that were probably obtained by force.
In a sign that Mr. Xi’s crackdown on lawyers is not waning, the authorities moved forward on Monday with trials for several of Ms. Wang’s colleagues, including Zhou Shifeng, the director of a law firm at the center of the government’s campaign, accusing them of subverting state power.
Foreign diplomats and activists harshly criticized Beijing’s decision to prosecute Mr. Zhou and his colleagues and demanded that the detained lawyers be allowed to consult with lawyers. Family members held a small demonstration on Monday outside a court in Tianjin, a city not far from Beijing where the lawyers are being held.
The United States Embassy in Beijing said in a statement that the charges against the lawyers were vague and “politically motivated.”
“The United States remains concerned by the Chinese government’s continuing efforts to harass, intimidate and prosecute defense lawyers and human rights activists for their work,” the statement said.
Calls to the court in Tianjin on Monday were not answered.
Mr. Xi, who has moved aggressively to contain dissent during his nearly four years in power, has shown a disdain for rights lawyers, who include many who make it their mission to challenge the state’s influence on the lives of everyday citizens. Last year, the government rounded up nearly 250 lawyers and their associates in one of the most concerted attacks on the profession in decades.
At least 16 lawyers and activists are still being held by the authorities and are awaiting trials, according to Patrick Poon, a China researcher for Amnesty International based in Hong Kong.
Ms. Wang, 45, is known as a pugnacious lawyer with a penchant for controversy. She represented Ilham Tohti, an advocate for China’s Uighur ethnic minority who is serving a life sentence on charges of separatism. She also helped defend a group of feminists who were detained last year for organizing a campaign against sexual harassment on public transit.
In January, the authorities formally arrested Ms. Wang and accused her of subverting state power. Her husband, Bao Longjun, faced a slightly lesser charge, though he is still in detention. Their son, Bao Zhuoxuan, lives under surveillance with Ms. Wang’s mother in northern China.
Ms. Wang’s supporters said they feared that she would be under police supervision and investigation for years, even though she had been released on bail.
“She might be on bail outside prison, but she is clearly still detained, with no free access to family, friends and under strict surveillance,” said Renee Xia, a spokeswoman for Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy group.
In her confession, which appeared on the website of a Hong Kong news site known as Oriental Press, in addition to several party-controlled outlets, Ms. Wang criticized her former employer, the Fengrui law firm, and said she regretted making “improper” remarks in interviews with foreign journalists.
She pledged not to accept awards from foreign organizations for her advocacy, saying, “I am Chinese, and I only accept the Chinese government’s leadership.” (The American Bar Association recently announced that it would give Ms. Wang an international human rights award.)
Wen Donghai, a lawyer for Ms. Wang, said he had not spoken with her since the video was released but suspected that the confession was not genuine.
“She was like a pupil reciting an essay in front of a teacher,” he said in an interview. “Not a single word is missing from the script.”
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