Chinese Feminists Detained on International Women's Day 'Broke No Laws'

china-international-womens-day-march-2015.jpg The All-China Women's Federation hosts a reception for International Women's Day in Beijing, March 6, 2015.

Chinese women's rights activists detained on public order charges after they planned an anti-sexual harassment campaign on International Women's Day claim they have broken no laws, relatives and lawyers said Tuesday.

Chinese police are continuing to hold Li Tingting, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, Zheng Churan and Wu Rongrong, the founder and executive director of the Hangzhou-based rights group Women Center, on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."

By Tuesday evening, at least four of the women, who were among a group of at least 10 initially detained on March 6, had been allowed to meet with their lawyers.

Wei's lawyer Wang Qiushi said she had seemed "in excellent spirits" during her meeting with Wang on Tuesday afternoon, but she had utterly rejected the charges against her.

"She doesn't think that she has committed any illegal act whatsoever," Wang told RFA. "What's more, she believes that everything she did was in keeping with the Chinese government's policies and international laws aimed at protecting the rights of women."

"She is very sure of herself and her actions, so she is in a very good mood," Wang said, adding that she agreed with Wei.

"I don't believe that my client Wei Tingting has broken any laws, and I am satisfied that she is not guilty," she said.

Wang hit out at the authorities for failing to inform Wei's family of the charges against her within 48 hours of her criminal detention.

"Wei Tingting's family have received no notification ... not even a verbal notification," Wang said. "This is against the law."

Wang said Wei's family are fully supportive of her activism, however.

"Her family support their daughter's activities on behalf of women's rights," she said. "Whether it's sexual harassment on public transport or other forms of mistreatment of women, it's all wrong."

"It is right to stand up and say no to these sorts of acts."

Health concerns

Wu Rongrong's lawyer Wang Fei said her family are concerned about her health while she is in the police-run detention center, however.

"Her health isn't that great ... she has health problems," Wang Fei said. "The detention center authorities have said that they will provide her with medical treatment."

Wang Fei said she had had to negotiate better treatment for Wu with the detention center authorities, who had forced Wu to sleep on the floor of her cell.

"I think that's been sorted out now," she added.

Wu's husband, who gave only his surname Sun, said he is also very concerned about the health of his wife.

"She has been a bit unwell in the past few months," Sun said, adding that he rejected the the charges against Wu.

"My feeling is, based on what I know at the moment, that she was nowhere near [breaking the law]," he said.

"I can't see anything illegal in carrying out activities for International Women's Day."

Li Tingting's lawyer Yan Xin was able to visit her last week, he told RFA.

Supporters pressured

The authorities have also stepped up pressure on any supporters of the detained women, who had planned to observe International Women's Day by putting up leaflets and stickers about sexual harassment in Beijing, Hangzhou and Guangzhou.

Several fellow students of Zheng Churan at Guangzhou's Zhongshan University have reported being hauled in for questioning over their links with Zheng by the authorities since the women's detention.

Educational authorities in Guangzhou have issued a notice to universities and colleges in the city warning them not to engage in any activities to show support for Zheng or the other detainees.

"Schools need to act quickly to carry out educational work and discover the situation in individual cases, and in classes," said the notice, a copy of which was shown to RFA.

"They must take effective and firm measures and provide a clear banner of guidance to prevent students from taking part in support activities such as signing petitions," it said.

An online petition started earlier by students for the women's release had been deleted on Tuesday afternoon, while accounts linked to their case on popular chat and messaging sites were deleted as soon as they appeared, student sources said.

Zheng's lawyer Hu Guiyun said she had visited her client in the detention center on Tuesday morning.

"She says she is not guilty," Hu said. "But it's hard to say whether or not she'll be released soon, because this case doesn't only involve her, but the others as well."

But she added: "She seemed pretty optimistic, and the people in the interview room treated her well."

Obstacles remain

The womens' detentions came amid the annual session of China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), in Beijing.

China's ruling Communist Party has promoted gender equality, at least in theory, since it came to power in 1949.

But women's and rights campaigners say the reality is very different on the ground, and that discrimination still presents major obstacles to equality.

The Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 in Beijing set out a challenging program of improvements to the rights and opportunities offered to women and girls around the world, as well as requiring governments to report back to the U.N. on progress in key areas.

The Beijing Declaration produced by the conference included a pledge to "ensure equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all women and girls."

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

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