One Year On, China's Five Feminists Remain Under Tight Surveillance

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An undated photo of Chinese feminist activist Li Tingting, one of five women's rights activists still under surveillance after their 2015 release on bail.
An undated photo of Chinese feminist activist Li Tingting, one of five women's rights activists still under surveillance after their 2015 release on bail.

Nearly one year after their detention as they planned an anti-sexual harassment campaign for International Women's Day, five Chinese feminist activists are still far from being free to live normal lives, the activists and their lawyers told RFA on Tuesday.

Li Tingting, Wu Rongrong, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, and Zheng Churan were released "on bail" last April after being detained on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" on March 6, 2015, two days ahead of International Women's Day.

The five women, whose detention prompted an international outcry, are still officially regarded as criminal suspects in spite of protesting to the United Nations over continuing police restrictions on their movements.

"It's hard for us to go about our lives or our work," Zheng told RFA. "If we leave our home province, we have to notify the police ahead of time."

"I had planned to go on a vacation trip to Beijing, but then a bunch of police visited my grandmother in her home, saying they were looking for me, even though I don't live there," she said.

"Those are the kind of problems we face."

Continuing interference

Zheng said the continuing police interference in the women's lives makes their private lives uncomfortable.

"Of course we have this sense that they are smearing our reputations in the eyes of friends and relatives," she said.

Fellow activist Wu Rongrong said she is constantly under police surveillance.

"I have to ask permission to make a trip, and I can't stay away for too long," Wu said. "I had to apply for permission to visit my parental home for Chinese New Year."

"There is huge psychological pressure with this hanging over me, and my physical health has got worse."

Wu said the restrictions make it hard for her to seek work, or to attend conferences linked to her field.

"They often come to check up on me, supposedly to see how I'm doing," she added.

Legal status unclear

Wu's defense lawyer Lu Zhoubin said the authorities have never dropped the charges against the five women, who have been left with no clarification of their legal status and could still face formal arrest and a trial.

"The investigating agency originally said that a crime had been committed, and recommended that they be formally arrested and the case passed to the prosecutor's office, perhaps for indictment," Lu told RFA.

"But in my opinion, no crime has been committed, and the case should be dropped entirely, including the bail status."

Lu said the women should never have been released on "bail," which is only intended for criminal suspects awaiting trial.

He said that all of the women's lawyers have recently written an open letter to police authorities in Beijing, to the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the National People's Congress (NPC), and the All China Women's Federation.

'Time nearly up'

Wei's lawyer Ge Wenxiu, who signed the letter, said bail is limited under Chinese law to one year after the date of initial detention.

"That time is nearly up, but there has been no move from police to drop the case," Ge said. "That's why we think that we must tell the relevant authorities our legal opinion on the matter."

"We are calling on them to proceed according to the law."

According to Li Tingting's lawyer Yan Xin, the activities carried out by the woman amounted to nothing more than performance art, and in no way constituted a threat to public order.

Meanwhile, Zheng said she still plans to speak out on behalf of women's rights.

"I will always be a feminist, of course I will, for the rest of my life," she said. "I will continue to work for women's rights in whatever way I can."

She said it is hard to say whether the open letter will have any effect, however.

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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