China Releases Guangdong Labor Activist 'On Bail,' Three Still Held

2016-02-04
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Zeng Feiyang, director of the Panyu Workers' Center near the provincial capital Guangzhou, May 20, 2014.
Zeng Feiyang, director of the Panyu Workers' Center near the provincial capital Guangzhou, May 20, 2014.
Photo courtesy of Zeng Feiyang

Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have released a local labor activist "on bail," ahead of Chinese New Year festivities this weekend, although three of her colleagues remain behind bars.

Zhu Xiaomei of the Panyu Workers' Center was detained two months ago when a group of police officers broke into her apartment and dragged her away from her baby daughter and teenage son.

She returned home on Feb. 1, her husband Wu Rongpu told RFA.

"She's doing OK," Wu said by phone as the family arrived to spend Lunar New Year at his parental home.

"I didn't ask her about [her time in detention] yet because we only just got home, and we are very happy," he said. "Her health seems to be OK, and I am very happy."

Zhu was held on suspicion of "gathering a crowd to disrupt social order," along with her colleagues from the Panyu Workers Center, Zeng Feiyang and Meng Han.

Zeng and Meng remain in the Guangzhou No.1 Detention Center, where they have been since Dec. 3.

And Nanfeiyan Social Work Service Center activist He Xiaobo is also being held in Guangdong's Foshan, on suspicion of "misappropriation of funds."

Zhu, a former worker at Hitachi Metals in Guangzhou, lost her job after she organized workers and lobbied for the establishment of a trade union at the factory.

Since joining the Panyu Center last year, Zhu has been involved in several collective bargaining cases such as the Guangzhou University Town sanitation workers dispute and Lide shoe factory dispute, the Hong Kong-based rights group China Labour Bulletin (CLB) said in an article on its website.

According to rights lawyer Wu Kuiming, Zhu's release is likely because she has a very young child at home in need of care.

"Zhu Xiaomei has an infant child who needs breast-feeding, which is a reason in Chinese law to be granted bail," Wu Kuiming said. "The authorities would have come under a lot of pressure if they didn't release her."

Unofficial groups targeted

He said Zhu was detained in a coordinated operation targeting unofficial labor groups.

"They detained them because they don't want people taking part in activism of this kind," Wu Kuiming said.

Zhu's main advice to low-paid workers in a dispute with management was "don't be afraid," the CLB article said.

"As workers, we were too isolated before, it was difficult to access information and our thinking ossified as a result," it quoted Zhu as saying in an interview before her detention.

"Somehow we’d end up believing that we were supposed to be oppressed in this way. I don’t think things should be like this," Zhu said. "If you ask me what I think, I’d say we as workers should have dignity and be respected just like anyone else."

Zhu said she had come to understand through her labor activism that workers can only get the dignity and respect they deserve if they are organized.

"Collective bargaining has always been the most useful tool," CLB quoted her as saying.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party is in the middle of a widening crackdown on non-government groups, especially those involved in the country's nascent but unofficial labor movement.

According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), Chinese NGOs work on issues that affect millions of ordinary people daily, including domestic violence and discrimination, child welfare, labor disputes and environmental pollution.

But now, NGOs that work on human rights or civil liberties issues and rely on foreign funding are being targeted for police supervision under a draft Foreign NGOs Administration Law currently in the pipeline, HRW said in recent report.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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