The mother of a detained labor activist in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong has withdrawn a defamation lawsuit against two state-run Chinese media organizations, a Hong Kong newspaper reported.
Chen Wenying, 71, mother of prominent labor activist Zeng Feiyang, told the South China Morning Post she had allowed police to process papers for the withdrawal of the lawsuit, which aimed to hit back at her son's portrayal in the Chinese media, which is tightly controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Chinese authorities stepped up the pressure on Zeng's family soon after she filed the lawsuit, the report said.
"Even her grandsons had been targeted with threats their careers were at stake," the paper reported.
"One grandson works as a surgeon at a hospital, and authorities had told his supervisor that his career would be in jeopardy if she pressed ahead with the lawsuit," it said.
Zeng was detained last December on suspicion of "gathering a crowd to disrupt social order," along with his colleagues from the Panyu Workers Center, Zhu Xiaomei and Meng Han.
Zhu, who has an infant son, has since been released on bail, while Zeng and Meng remain in the Guangzhou No.1 Detention Center.
"Personally, I don't believe that anything [the activists did] amounts to a crime," veteran labor activist Zhang Zhiru told RFA on Wednesday.
"All Zeng Feiyang, all we [labor activists] did was to give advice to workers within current law and government policy, and help them initiate collective bargaining and collective negotiations," he said.
"We used official channels to liaise with government departments, to request assistance and help — all of which is permitted by law and government policy," he said. "We had been working with them for a long time."
"[Zeng Feiyang] offered legal assistance and advice to workers with industrial injuries, and especially supported collective bargaining over a number of years," Zhang said.
"His achievements were enormous," he said.
‘Target of a smear campaign’
According to the Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin (CLB), only Meng has been allowed to meet with his lawyers, while Zeng's lawyer has been consistently barred from visiting him.
"Zeng has been the target of a vicious smear campaign in China’s state-run media," CLB said in an article on its website.
During recent meetings with his lawyers, Meng said he supported Zeng and "expressed confidence that workers would not be swayed by such propaganda and would seek the truth themselves," it said.
Two other activists, Peng Jiayong and Deng Xiaoming, who also were detained in early December, were released and escorted back to their home towns on Jan. 8, CLB said.
Meanwhile, Foshan-based labor activist He Xiaobo, who worked at the unofficial labor group, Nanfeiyan Social Work Service Center, was released on bail last month after four months' detention on suspicion of "misappropriation of funds."
CLB founder Han Dongfang penned an open letter to party mouthpiece the People's Daily in January, hitting out at the "smear campaign" run by state media.
CLB said the detentions had largely put an end to the activists' activities, and their release on bail means they are still under police surveillance.
"The need for civil society labor organizations remains as pressing as ever in the Guangzhou region as factories continue to close down and or relocate without giving employees the compensation, social insurance contributions and other benefits they are legally entitled to," the group said in a separate report on the activists.
Journalist Tian Qizhuang, who formerly covered the labor beat at the Fengfeng Miners' Newspaper, said any kind of rights work carries a high price in today's China.
"Social progress in China is a long and slow process," Tian said. "It also requires a huge sacrifice from the people involved, who have to pay a heavy price to pursue their ideals."
"But their deeds will eventually win public recognition by the majority of people," he said.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Pan Jiaqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.