Chinese Police Jail Two Women Over 'Vehicle Reversing' Video Clip

The women were held for nearly a month as President Xi Jinping began his second, and indefinite, term in office following changes to the constitution.

Huang Jingyi, one of two women jailed for 15 days for participating in a video of a vehicle reversing in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei province, is shown in an undated photo.

Authorities in the central Chinese city of Wuhan jailed two women for their part in an online video clip enacting a "reversing" vehicle, a metaphor used by critics of indefinite rule by President Xi Jinping.

Huang Jingyi was detained on Mar. 2 after taking part in the clip, in which participants enacted a reversing vehicle with chairs.

In the video, Huang shouts "Attention! Vehicle reversing!" repeatedly as the others move their chairs backwards to imitate the moving vehicle.

Fellow participant Geng Caiwen was also detained, four days after Huang. Both women were sentenced to 15-day administrative jail terms, which can be handed down by Chinese police to perceived troublemakers without the need for a trial.

But while the pair were due to be released on Mar. 16, they weren't freed until 10 days after that.

"My husband went to meet me on Mar. 16, but couldn't, because they had taken me to the countryside," Geng told RFA. "We went to a holiday village, and we stayed there for a further 10 days."

"There, I was allowed to watch TV freely, but I wasn't allowed any contact with the outside world," she said. "I was with Huang Jingyi."

"The police gave no explanation of where they were taking us; they never need to explain where they are taking you," she said.

Geng said the video was the reason for their detention.

"We had four seats all in a row, with the old gentlemen in the front, and we started by pulling the chairs backwards, while Huang Jingyi shouted 'Attention! Vehicle reversing!'

"That's all it was," she said.

Huang said she and Geng were manhandled at one point by their police escorts during the journey.

"They pressed mine and Geng Caiwen's heads to the car, so we couldn't move," she said. "They wanted to scare and terrify us, and they threatened us with our families ... they kidnapped us and took us to the countryside for 10 days, limiting our personal freedom; they used mafia tactics."

Not charged with any crimes

Geng said neither woman had been charged with any crime.

"The initial 15 days' detention was all notified with paperwork, but then when my husband came to pick me up, I wasn't there," she said. "I went to the local police station, and they told him not to worry; that I had food, drink and entertainment."

Geng said she hadn't done anything wrong, although disturbing public order was the reason given for her initial sentence.

"I was in my own home; how could I have disturbed public order?" she said.

An employees who answered the phone at the Wuhan No. 1 Detention Center, where the women were initially held, hung up when contacted by RFA on Tuesday, while an employee who answered the phone at the Ganghua police station said they knew nothing about women's case.

Huang said she found it unbelievable that she could have lost her freedom for nearly a month over a video less than 10 seconds long.

"All I did was take part in a video; I didn't hold up any reactionary placards or shout any slogans," she said. "We were just copying lots of other people who had made 'vehicle reversing' videos, so we thought we'd make one too."

"It never occurred to us that it was linked to the constitutional amendments ... It was just a bit of fun."

Stepping up controls

The ruling Chinese Communist Party is stepping up controls on dissidents who speak out against changes to the constitution allowing President Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely, after the country's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), voted to amend the country's constitution to abolish any limits to Xi's term in office earlier this month.

Many critics of the move have used the image of a reversing vehicle, suggesting that China is heading back to the strongman rule of late supreme leader Mao Zedong.

Criticism of the move has been largely expunged from China's tightly controlled social media platforms, and dissidents who spoke out against it have been targeted by police.

Last week, authorities in the eastern province of Anhui detained former state prosecutor Shen Liangqing on public order charges after he criticized the changes.

Reported by Yeung Mak for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.