Posts Tagged ‘women’s rights activists’

Saudi Arabia, Canada and the summer of discontent — perplexing, even jarring

August 19, 2018

“It may just be that MBS has a prickly personality and takes these things as personal insults.” But  activists say the motivations are more Machiavellian.

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By Taylor Luck Correspondent
AMMAN, JORDAN
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For Saudi watchers, the headlines out of the kingdom this summer – women’s activists jailed, clerics silenced, a diplomatic row with Canada – have been perplexing, even jarring.

After all, despite Saudi Arabia’s failing war in Yemen, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has an iron grip on power in the oil-rich kingdom and no serious internal rivals and remains in control over one of the wealthiest economies in the world.

Within the Saudi government, the crown prince controls the economy, defense, military, and foreign policy portfolios. It is a direct, top-down power structure; a one-man show.

And from the moment his father, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, made him crown prince a year ago, ending a power struggle within his generation of the Saudi royal family, the young prince, MBS as he is known, has signaled that he is ushering the conservative kingdom into a dramatically more modern, and moderate, era.

In addition to distancing Saudi power structures from the strict Wahhabi strain of Islam that is associated with extremism and terrorism, he has pursued an agenda billed as the “future for the young generation,” allowing cinemas to open, opening the military to women, easing regulations for opening businesses, and ending a decades-long women’s driving ban.

In Canada’s spat with Saudi Arabia, signs of a trickier road for democracies


This spring, moreover, MBS took a triumphant, four-week, coast-to-coast goodwill tour of the United States during which he sold himself as a reformer, a modernizer, and a liberal.

But for critics and analysts, contradictions between his centralized hold on power and his presumed reformist inclinations have existed from the beginning.

Now this series of erratic – or what critics describe as over-reactive – policies has left analysts and diplomats alike wondering if we are witnessing the lashing out of a prince with a surprisingly fragile grip on power or the work of a savvy ruler outmaneuvering rivals while navigating competing local, regional, and international politics. Or, more darkly, the actions of a thin-skinned, but unchecked, strongman.

Crackdown on clerics


In September 2017, Saudi authorities quietly arrested several high-profile clerics, including Salman al-Odeh, an influential Islamic thinker with millions of social media followers.

This month, Riyadh renewed its crackdown on imams, jailing over one dozen prominent Islamic scholars and speakers including Safar al-Hawali and Nasser al-Omar.

A reason reportedly given by Saudi authorities to Western diplomats is that the jailed clerics were opposed to the liberal social reforms that the crown prince is trying to push through, including allowing women to drive, opening cinemas, and allowing mixed entertainment and sporting events.

Moreover, the Crown Prince’s office asserts, these clerics are opposed to his progressive view of a “moderate Islam” that rejects extremist tendencies associated with Wahhabism.

Observers and activists say the motivations are more Machiavellian.

Many of the jailed clerics such as Mr. Odeh and Mr. Hawali are leaders of the so-called Sahwa movement, a strain of Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Islamism where clerics use Islamic theory to call for democracy and human rights. The movement opposes Western military intervention in the region, but also opposes terrorism against civilians. It was split over the Sunni uprising against US forces in Iraq.

The Sahwa movement, while socially conservative, is ideologically at odds with the Wahhabi school over fealty to monarchs and dictators, and in the 1990s was at odds with the royal family, calling for democracy and organizing protests. In 2011, amid the Arab Spring, scholars such as Odeh used Twitter to reach millions of followers with calls for a constitution, an elected parliament, and the formation of professional associations and unions.

By locking up clerics, the crown prince has removed the few voices who would and could dare to challenge his increasingly autocratic grip on Saudi society.

“These clerics are the only guys that have the ability to challenge the regime,” says Stéphane Lacroix, associate professor of political science at Sciences Po in Paris and an expert on Saudi Islamist movements.

“If any political challenge to the regime should come from anywhere, this is it. It is this potential that scares MBS.”

The Qatar factor


Another of this summer’s puzzling Saudi fare was the stunning arrest of women’s rights activists at the very same time the regime says it is increasing women’s role in the work force, military, and public life.

In May, Saudi authorities rounded up 11 women’s rights activists, issuing travel bans and holding many without trial.

As part of an alleged state-sanctioned smear campaign, social media accounts began accusing these activists of crimes against the state; Saudi newspapers ran photos of women’s rights activists with the word “traitor” in a banner above their faces.

Oddly, the crackdown came one month before Riyadh’s announced an end to the ban on women driving, and only days after Mohammed bin Salman completed his much-hyped tour of the United States.

The Saudi regime has recently renewed its arrests of women activists, culminating in the July jailing of activist Samar Badawi, who was awarded the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award by then-first lady Michele Obama in 2012 for her fights for women’s suffrage.

“It basically cancels out a lot of the good publicity Bin Salman got on his US trip, which means it was almost certainly aimed at a domestic or regional audience,” says F. Gregory Gause, professor of international affairs at Texas A&M and a longtime Saudi observer.

Professor Gause says a prime explanation for the regime’s actions is the kingdom’s longstanding feud with Qatar, which is driven by a resentment of Qatar’s attempts to rival Saudi Arabia’s influence through backing Islamist groups during the Arab Spring, and the fact that it harbors Saudi dissidents and critics.

“Looking at these arrests, I think you must go back to the issue of Qatar, and the overestimation of Qatar’s power and reach by some within the ruling circle,” he says.

According to the accounts of Arab and Western diplomats, the feud drives much of Riyadh’s domestic and foreign policies. Riyadh and the United Arab Emirates implemented a blockade of the rich emirate in 2017 and have even called for “regime change.”

For Riyadh, the crackdown on human rights activists was both a message that dissent will not be allowed, and a pre-emptive strike immobilizing any potential human rights critics at home that Qatar may try and support in order to pressure Saudi Arabia to lift its blockade.

The feud between Riyadh and Toronto came after the Canadian Foreign Ministry issued a Tweet Aug. 3 calling for the immediate release of Ms. Badawi, the acclaimed women’s activist, along with other human rights advocates.

In response, Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador, froze trade deals, unloaded Canadian assets, and canceled direct flights to Toronto by the state-owned Saudia Airlines. Even more surreal for some, the kingdom also cancelled scholarships for 8,000 Saudi students studying in Canadian universities, ordering them to return home.

This time, the feud cannot be explained away by power politics or regional scheming.

“There is absolutely no way that a tweet from the Canadian Foreign Ministry will have any effect domestically or regionally on Saudi Arabia,” says Gause.

“This could just come down to personalities. Perhaps it is a case of where you get the crown prince on a bad day.”

Rather than a power play, it may be a symptom of a deeper upset of the system in Saudi Arabia.

Although by no means a democracy, modern Saudi Arabia was built on a careful system of checks and balances within the royal family and between the rulers and Saudi society at large.

The royal family would rule by committee, with the various princes and branches of the family, elites, clerics, and technocrats playing a role in the decisionmaking process.

But in the past two years, Saudi insiders say, as Bin Salman takes policy decisions alone, other royals, clerics, elites, and technocrats are “left in the dark” – and none are allowed to criticize or challenge a decision.

Without those informal restraints to keep a ruler’s worst impulses in check, analysts say, we may now be witnessing the whims of an unfiltered and unbound Saudi royal.

In an era of strongmen with thin skin, launching a trade war and a smear campaign to avenge a perceived personal slight is becoming a norm – and in Saudi Arabia there is no institution to moderate it.

“It may just be that MBS has a prickly personality and takes these things as personal insults,” Gause says. “This is the new Saudi Arabia.”

https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2018/0816/What-s-behind-Saudi-Arabia-s-summer-of-discontent

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Saudi Arabia Expels Canadian Ambassador

August 6, 2018

Move comes after government in Ottawa expresses concern over arrests of civil-society and women’s rights activists in the kingdom

Saudi Arabia said it has recalled its ambassador in Canada and expelled the North American country’s envoy. Above, the Canadian flag flies on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
Saudi Arabia said it has recalled its ambassador in Canada and expelled the North American country’s envoy. Above, the Canadian flag flies on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. PHOTO: BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS
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Saudi Arabia said it has expelled Canada’s ambassador in the kingdom and recalled its own envoy from the North American country after the government in Ottawa expressed concern over recent arrests of civil-society and women’s rights activists in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry early Monday said the kingdom was also freezing all new business and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action.

“The Ministry also affirmed that the Canadian position is an explicit and transparent interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the ministry said.

Saudi Arabia said it considers the Canadian ambassador in Saudi Arabia as persona non grata and gave him a 24-hour notice to leave the kingdom.

Representatives for Canada’s foreign department didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Last week, authorities in Saudi Arabia detained two women’s rights activists, broadening a campaign of arrests that has drawn international criticism and tainted the kingdom’s top-down agenda of change.

Those rounded up in recent days include Samar Badawi, who is known for having challenged the kingdom’s male guardianship rules and is the sister of one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent detainees, liberal blogger Raif Badawi. Ms. Badawi is one of at least 18 civil-rights activists arrested since May, four of whom have been temporarily released, activists say. Many others are banned from traveling outside the kingdom. None of them is known to have been formally charged.

The Saudi move on Monday came after the Canadian embassy in Riyadh said Canada was “gravely concerned” over a new wave of arrests of human-rights campaigners in the kingdom, including Ms. Badawi.

“We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists,” the embassy tweeted on Friday.

The Saudi foreign ministry said the arrests had been carried out by the competent authority under Saudi law.

“It is very unfortunate that the term “immediate release” was mentioned in the statement, which is totally unacceptable in inter-state relations,” the Saudi foreign ministry said.

Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who runs Saudi Arabia day to day, the government has worked to open up a religiously conservative traditional society with steps such as allowing women to drive and opening cinemas, while at the same time jailing critics, including clerics and rights activists.

But the arrests, critics say, send the message that the monarchy alone will decide the pace and scale of social change in the kingdom.

Hundreds of prominent Saudis, including billionaire Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, were also arrested in November and detained at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh. Most were released after agreeing to make payments Saudi officials say totaled more than $100 billion.

In November last year the kingdom summoned its ambassador in Germany home for consultations over comments by German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel about the political crisis in Lebanon. It also handed Germany’s representative in Riyadh a protest note over what it said were “shameful” comments Mr. Gabriel made after a meeting with his Lebanese counterpart.

“This latest move, and what happened with Germany and the Ritz is going to make investors really wary about doing business in Saudi Arabia,” said a Western adviser to the Saudi government.

“The government says they want to revive investments yet they are ticking all the wrong boxes,” said the adviser.

Saudi Arabia’s intention to freeze trade with Canada isn’t expected to cause major economic disruption.

Canada’s trade with Saudi Arabia is relatively small, with exports to the kingdom topping just over 1 billion Canadian dollars (roughly $770 million) in 2017, according to the country’s data-gathering agency.

What trade Canada does have with Saudi Arabia has drawn some criticism.

In recent years the Canadian government has found itself under scrutiny from human-rights’ groups after it approved the sale of light-armored vehicles made in Canada to Saudi Arabia. Nongovernmental organizations have pressed that Canada open a probe on whether Canadian-made vehicles have been used to commit human-rights abuses.

The sudden diplomatic rupture with Canada illustrates how the kingdom, which has long had severe restrictions on free expression, is becoming even less tolerant to criticism and dissenting views. The Gulf state has previously handed protest notes to foreign governments over remarks on the internal affairs of the kingdom, but it rarely expels diplomats.

The Saudi crown prince has been criticized by some observers and Western diplomats for creating a less stable kingdom. Saudi Arabia last year abruptly cut diplomatic and trade ties with its neighbor Qatar after accusing its former ally of supporting extremism, a charge that Doha denies. Saudi Arabia also was criticized for the sudden resignation of Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, when he was in the kingdom. Mr. Hariri reversed that decision soon after he left Saudi Arabia.

Write to Summer Said at summer.said@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/saudi-arabia-recalls-ambassador-to-canada-1533512832

China Rejects Calls to Free Women’s Rights Activists — Supporters of Detained Feminists Come Under Pressure

March 26, 2015

Two Chinese hostesses dance during the third session of the 12th National People's Congress outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on 8 March 2015

The arrests came as China marked International Women’s Day amid its top political meetings

BBC News

China has rejected calls from several foreign governments to free five women’s rights activists who have spent nearly three weeks in detention.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said that nobody had the right to ask China to release the group.

The activists were planning public campaigns against sexual harassment.

They were arrested in early March in the run-up to China’s top political meetings, which coincided with International Women’s Day.

The BBC’s Celia Hatton in Beijing says grassroots groups in China have been reporting a marked rise in the detention of political activists, as the ruling Communist Party moves to suppress political opposition.

 United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks to members of the Security Council during a meeting about the Ukraine situation, at the U.N. headquarters in New York, 6 March, 2015
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, has called for the women’s release

‘Stop interference’

Ms Hua said in a daily briefing to reporters on Wednesday that Beijing “hoped relevant people would stop interfering in China’s judicial sovereignty”.

Her remarks came a day after the UK’s Foreign Office said it was “deeply concerned” about the ongoing detention.

A spokesman said that the women were “peacefully demonstrating” against sexual harassment and that the UK was particularly concerned by reports that the detainees have been denied due legal process and medical care.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, and the European Union have also called for their release.

Ms Power, who has tweeted several times on the topic, reiterated her call last week in a fresh statement, saying: “If China is committed to advancing the rights of women, then it should be working to address the issues raised by these women’s rights activists – not silencing them.”

Screencap of Samantha Power's tweets on March 12

The five women – Wu Rongrong, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, Zheng Churan and Li Tingting – were planning a march in a Beijing park and other gatherings in Beijing and Guangzhou, calling for safe sex and awareness of sexual harassment.

Two of the women suffer from serious illnesses – chronic liver disease and a heart condition – and have been moved to a hospital detention centre.

Their health problems have been exacerbated by lengthy interrogation sessions, their lawyers say.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-32046346

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In China, Supporters of Detained Feminists Come Under Pressure

China rejects calls for release of women’s rights activists

March 25, 2015

By The Associated Press

China’s round-up of women’s-rights activists suggests a new fear among officials

Daring to demand respect

BEIJING (AP) — China on Wednesday rejected growing international calls for the release of five women’s rights activists and accused critics of violating the country’s judicial sovereignty by appealing for the women’s freedom.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying defended China’s legal system but said she had no specific details about the women’s cases.

“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,” Hua told reporters at a regularly scheduled news briefing.

The five have been held in a Beijing detention center for almost three weeks, accused of creating a disturbance by planning to display posters raising awareness of sexual harassment to mark International Women’s Day on March 8.

Beijing police on Wednesday said they had no information about the cases.

If convicted, Wei Tingting, Li Tingting, Wang Man, Zheng Churan and Wu Rongrong could be sentenced to up to three years in prison. Five others detained at the same time have since been released.

Lawyers for the women say they are being held under harsh conditions, are subject to lengthy interrogations and have been denied access to legal counsel.

The detentions have fed fears that Chinese authorities are clamping down on public speech and dissent.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power strongly criticized the detentions in a statement Friday. Power said the charge of “creating a disturbance” was a pretext for stifling their attempt to address pressing social problems.

“If China is committed to advancing the rights of women, then it should be working to address the issues raised by the women’s rights activists, not silencing them,” Power said.

The European Union has also called for their release, saying their right to demonstrate peacefully — a right not generally acknowledged in China — had been violated.

Britain’s Foreign Office also said it was deeply concerned about the detentions, especially because of reports that they had been denied due legal process, and in Wu’s case, access to adequate medical care. “We urge China to release all those detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, in line with China’s Constitution and  international human rights commitments,” it said in a statement.

Activists on social media have also spearheaded a campaign demanding their release and at least one protest over the issue has been staged outside the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C.

China’s restrictions on free speech and assembly and allegations of gender discrimination have also been highlighted by rights groups opposed to Beijing’s bid to hold the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

Related:

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters

Hong Kong Protesters want freedom of speech, a free and open Internet, freedom of the press, the right to elect their own leaders without interference from Beijing and other human rights. China’s solution is threats and more threats. Now a threat comes to academic freedom from China’s leaders.

A Hong Kong woman prays for mercy during the pro-democracy protests, October 2, 2014.

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Hong Kong police using pepper spray on peaceful protesters

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China’s crackdown on women’s-rights advocates

March 21, 2015

China’s round-up of women’s-rights activists suggests a new fear among officials

Daring to demand respect

A GROUP of women’s-rights activists had planned to mark International Women’s Day on March 8th by handing out leaflets and stickers in several Chinese cities to draw attention to the prevalence of sexual harassment on public transport. But the authorities decided to observe the day in a different way—by detaining at least ten of the women. Five remain in custody, charged with the crime of “picking quarrels and causing trouble”, a frequently used catch-all for locking up dissidents. Fellow feminists fear this heralds greater government opposition to their campaigning.

Women’s Day is officially observed in China: women are even, theoretically, allowed to take half a day off. But it also coincides with the brief annual meeting of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), which this year ended on March 15th. The authorities are always hyper-vigilant around the time of the parliamentary session, fearful that citizens might use the occasion to draw attention to their grievances. Dissidents of all stripes are kept under close watch.

The continued detention of some of the activists even beyond the NPC meeting, and the charges laid against them, suggest that security officials are growing more worried about feminist pressure-tactics even at less sensitive times (two of those detained are among the three pictured, at a protest in 2012; Li Tingting, left, and Wei Tingting, right). The guardians of social stability will not be comforted by the comparison being drawn by some Chinese activists between these detentions and the case of Pussy Riot, a Russian group of feminist punk-rockers who gained international attention after their arrest and prosecution in 2012 for bringing their provocative brand of performance art to a cathedral in Moscow.

There are signs of changing attitudes. Organisers of a huge car-industry fair in Shanghai next month have announced that they will end their practice of using scantily clad women to show off new car models. But men in power still sometimes have tin ears. When it was time for Li Keqiang, the prime minister, to decide whether to let his annual press conference at the NPC overrun, he deferred to the female moderator, Fu Ying, a former ambassador and vice-minister. Everyone knows the host makes these decisions, Mr Li said patronisingly, “particularly if the host is a lady. I want to respect ladies.”

http://www.economist.com/news/china/21646796-round-up-womens-rights-activists-suggests-new-fear-among-officials-bad-day-women

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HONG KONG — Sixteen people who went to a Beijing detention center on Friday to push for medical treatment for one of five detained women’s rights activists were themselves taken into custody, according to one of the 16 detained and a website that documents rights violations. They were all released by 3 a.m. Saturday.

The 16 are supporters of Wu Rongrong, who along with four other activists was detained by the police ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, when they planned to demonstrate against sexual harassment on public transportation. Ms. Wu, who has hepatitis, was not receiving proper medical care, Ye Jinghuan, an activist who was one of those detained Friday, said in a telephone interview.

The group went to the Haidian Detention Center in western Beijing to deliver a note asking if Ms. Wu was being forced to sleep on the floor, as she had told her lawyer, and whether she had been sent to a hospital for treatment, Ms. Ye said. They were taken away to several police stations after about an hour, Ms. Ye said as she was being held. When called later in the afternoon, Ms. Ye’s phone had been turned off. Her detention, as well as that of the other 15 supporters, was subsequently reported by Weiquan Wang, a Chinese website that reports on human rights.

Read the rest:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/21/world/asia/urging-treatment-for-activist-in-jail-in-china-16-are-detained-themselves.html?_r=0

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Target: Yin Yanjing, Head of Haidian Detention Center

Goal: Free five women’s rights defenders held for their activism.

Five women’s rights activists in China have been arrested on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” as a result of their planned activities for International Women’s Day. The charge is often used to suppress activism and carries a sentence of up to five years. Demand that these activists be freed immediately.

Wei Tingting, Wang Man, Li Tingting (aka Li Maizi), Zheng Churan (aka Da Tu), and Wu Rongrong were all arrested in the span of two days after working on a campaign to end sexual harassment on public transportation and mark International Women’s Day. They were not charged with anything until nearly a week after their initial detention, and although a lawyer was allowed to see them the day the charges were brought against them, earlier attempts to make contact with the women had been rebuffed by prison officials, who had insisted they were not being held at the facility.

Zheng and Li are staff members of Weizhiming Women Center, a Women’s Rights NGO founded by Wu. The organization’s office was raided following the women’s arrests, and the women’s phones and personal computers were also confiscated by police.

Wei, Wang, Li, Zheng, and Wu are all doing incredibly important work to combat gender discrimination in China. Their efforts should be praised, not stymied. Sign the petition and demand that the women be released and the charges against them be dropped, and that in the meantime they have access to legal representation and medical care and are guaranteed freedom from torture and ill-treatment.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Director Yin,

I am writing to urge the immediate release of Wei Tingting, Wang Man, Li Tingting (aka Li Maizi), Zheng Churan (aka Da Tu), and Wu Rongrong, all of whom were arrested as a result of their women’s rights activism and charged with “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” They are doing essential work and their efforts should be lauded and supported, not stymied. I implore you to release the women immediately and allow them to continue their efforts without interference.

The women were held without charge for nearly a week after their arrests, and during that time a lawyer’s attempts to visit them were rebuffed by officials who claimed that the women were not at the facility when they in fact were. Additionally, following Wu Rongrong’s arrest a friend reported receiving a phone call from Wu in which Wu could be heard crying out in pain before the line went dead. The friend made subsequent attempts to contact Wu, but was unsuccessful.

Free access to lawyers and protection from torture and ill-treatment are among the most basic human rights in the world. It is imperative that while they remain in custody Wei, Wang, Li, Zheng, and Wu are granted unfettered access to legal representation and medical attention and that they are protected from torture and ill-treatment.

Do the right thing: Drop the charges and release these women.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: VictoriaOP via Wikimedia Commons

http://forcechange.com/140344/free-detained-womens-rights-defenders/

Related:

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters

Hong Kong Protesters want freedom of speech, a free and open Internet, freedom of the press, the right to elect their own leaders without interference from Beijing and other human rights. China’s solution is threats and more threats. Now a threat comes to academic freedom from China’s leaders.

A Hong Kong woman prays for mercy during the pro-democracy protests, October 2, 2014.

.
.

Hong Kong police using pepper spray on peaceful protesters

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China: Five activists charged with ‘creating disturbance’ over anti sexual-harassment posters

March 14, 2015

Chinese activists could face up to three years in jail if convicted, says one of their lawyers

The Associated Press

Li Tingting, left, and Wei Tingting, right, carrying placards during a street protest in Beijing against domestic violence in 2012. Photo: SCMP Pictures

The lawyer of a women’s rights activist from China has said Beijing police have told him his client and four other activists have been criminally detained for planning to put up anti-sexual harassment posters in three cities.

Lawyer Wang Qiushi, who represents activist Wei Tingting, said police this week told lawyers representing the women that they have been accused of creating a disturbance.

Wang said it was not clear when the women were formally detained, which is a legal step before a trial in court, but police first informed him of the development on Monday.

He said if convicted of creating a disturbance, the women could serve up to three years in prison.

Lawyer Yan Xin, who met with his client Li Tingting on Thursday, said she received a written notice dated on Sunday informing of her formal detention and laying out the accusation against her.

Wang said on Friday he had not yet been allowed to meet with his client and had not seen any written notice of her detention.

Beijing police did not respond on Friday to a request seeking comment on the cases.

Police detained at least 10 women last weekend before they could put up posters in conjunction with International Women’s Day in subway stations and other public transport facilities in Beijing, Guangzhou and Hangzhou, according to activist Feng Yuan.

Police are still holding and have formally detained Wei, Li Tingting, Wang Man, Zheng Churan and Wu Rongrong, the founder of the Hangzhou-based group Women Centre.

“We think there’s no way the evidence adds up to the charge against her,” Yan said of his client.

Lawyer Wang said the protest would have helped society.

The case has fed fears that the authorities are clamping down on public speech and dissent, with groups such as people running community libraries recently singled out for official harassment.

The detentions also drew condemnation from Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, who wrote on her Twitter account on Thursday that the five should be released and that such actions restrict non-governmental organisations fighting for universal rights.

The European Union also called for their release on Thursday, saying in a statement the action against the activists violates their right to demonstrate peacefully.

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Five women’s rights activists have been formally detained in Beijing on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a nebulous charge that has been used in recent months against a wide variety of activists, lawyers, and writers. The five—Wu Rongrong, Li Tingting, Zheng Churan, Wei Tingting, and Wang Man—were part of a larger group who planned to distribute stickers on public transportation to raise awareness of sexual harassment and were picked up by police last weekend.

Megha Rajagopalan reports for Reuters:

No formal charges have been levied, but they were suspected of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, lawyers said, a charge authorities have used in the past to jail political dissidents.

A rights activist close to two of the women told Reuters police had warned many other campaigners against staging demonstrations on Women’s Day, which coincided with an annual parliamentary session, a sensitive period for the leadership.

Yan Xin, another lawyer representing one of the women, said he had learned the details of the case after meeting his client on Thursday.

Police in the Haidian district of Beijing, where the women are being held, could not be reached for comment. [Source]

At the Guardian, Tania Branigan reports on the potential impact of their detentions on the feminist movement in China:

The fact they are criminally detained – not just informally held – indicates they could well be charged. Detentions and convictions of activists have increased sharply since Xi Jinping became China’s leader two years ago and the women were seized during annual political meetings in Beijing, which tends to be a sensitive period. But similar initiatives to mark previous International Women’s Days had not led to custody.

The detentions took place as premier Li Keqiang met female legislators, telling them: “Women hold up half the sky [a famous quote from Mao Zedong] and you should believe that your male counterparts … will move forward hand-in-hand with you.”

Feng Yuan, a women’s rights activist, said: “We cannot understand why the authorities are so tough this time. What the activists want is exactly what state policy on women says: that women should be equal.”

“There are so many mixed messages … there is some progress. Now, with these young activists detained, we see the progress to gender equality is so slow, our achievements are so little and the potential risk [to campaigners] is so huge.” [Source]

China Human Rights Defenders provides more background on the work of the five detainees, and links their detention to the broader crackdown on NGOs and civil society groups in China:

According to CHRD sources, the activists under criminal detention have fought for the rights of individuals suffering from HIV/AIDs and Hepatitis B, disabled persons, women discriminated against in rural land entitlement, employment, and higher education, and female victims of rape or sexual harassment, as well as the rights of LGBT individuals.

[…] Zheng and Wu were transported to Beijing—significant distances from where they were taken into custody, a strong indication that they were swept up in a coordinated nationwide police action against NGOs based in Beijing, and likely because of orders from the central government.

Li, Wu, and Zheng have all actively promoted the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in China by conducting trainings, disseminating information, organizing events to raise public awareness, documenting cases of rights violations, and participating in CEDAW reviews. As part of reviewing the Chinese government’s compliance with the Convention, the CEDAW Committee stated in Concluding Observations in November 2014 that it was concerned about reprisals against NGOs and activists taking part in the review process, and about restrictions and censorship faced by NGOs in China.

The detentions and raids on NGO offices come at a time when the Chinese government is introducing strong measures, including a draft law to restrict the funding and the operations of foreign NGOs inside China, to further close off space for NGOs to function. [Source]

Read more about the crackdown on NGOs via CDT.

The detentions come just before the 20th anniversary of the landmark U.N. World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, and as women’s rights activists gather in New York for the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women. NPR interviews New York University professor Anne Marie Goetz about the 1995 conference and how things have changed for women in the two decades since.

On Twitter, Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., spoke out in support of the detained activists.

http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2015/03/five-womens-rights-activists-criminally-detained/