Chinese Labor Activist Repeatedly Interrogated in Detention

2019-04-09
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Two migrant workers with their tricycle under an elevated road in the suburbs of Shanghai, April 5, 2017.
Two migrant workers with their tricycle under an elevated road in the suburbs of Shanghai, April 5, 2017.
AFP

Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong are repeatedly interrogating detained editor and labor activist Wei Zhili, his wife said following a recent visit by his lawyer to the detention center.

Wei was initially detained in the provincial capital Guangzhou in January, while Wei and others were detained on March 20. He is currently being held under criminal detention at the No. 2 Detention Center in Guangdong's Shenzhen city.

His wife, the feminist activist Zheng Churan, told RFA on Tuesday that Wei's meeting with his lawyer was monitored by police during the visit.

"They met under police surveillance, with the police looking on and listening to everything they said," Zheng said.

Editor-in-chief Yang Zhengjun and his colleagues Wei Zhili and Ke Chengbing, all worked for the Xinshengdai (New Generation) website at www.ilabour.net at the time of their detentions.

All three had criticized life-threatening working conditions in some Chinese factories, via their website which focused on news affecting China's tens of millions of internal migrant workers.

Zheng said Wei's mental state appears to be stable for the time being, though his head has been shaved like a prisoner, and he is forced to sleep on the floor.

"He has to work longer hours in the warehouse because he is a new arrival, so he gets less sleep," she said. "He has also had a lot of interrogations."

Forced confession fears

During the interrogations, the questioning was mostly focused around Wei's efforts to help migrant workers with pneumoconiosis to pursue compensation claims.

Interrogating officers had told me he was "stupid" to try to help the workers, Zheng said.

"The police taunted him as dumb during his interrogations, saying that he clearly had a low IQ, and that that he wouldn't find it easy to get out again," she said.

"Of course his parents are worried sick that he doesn't have enough clothes to wear, or that he is being bullied or beaten up so as to force a confession out of him," Zheng said.

Wei's lawyer Fan Biaowen said Wei had undergone five interrogations at the time of their meeting.

"They mostly asked him about the pneumoconiosis and his campaign for the workers' rights," Fan said. "I think his actions were very courageous, but they are charging him with hooliganism, which is a separate charge from picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."

"Ke Chengbing is being charged with [picking quarrels and stirring up trouble], the same as the other guy [Yang Zhengjun]," he said.

The London-based rights group Amnesty International has said Wei could be at risk of torture.

Numerous disappeared activists

Wei had helped several hundred pneumoconiosis sufferers from Hunan province to launch a compensation claim last November in Shenzhen after running out of money to spend on medical bills, his friend told RFA.

The Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) last week called for the immediate release of Wei, Yang and Ke.

Labor groups in neighboring Hong Kong also staged a protest outside the ruling Chinese Communist Party's representative office in the city, to call for the release of dozens of labor activists held by the Chinese government in recent months.

Activists have also called for the release of more than 40 former workers at the Jasic Technology factory in Guangdong province and members of the Jasic Workers' Solidarity Group (JWSG), who were supporting them.

At least 44 labor activists, students, and recent graduates of China's top universities have been "disappeared" or criminally detained since the nationwide crackdown on the Jasic labor movement, which started in July and continued with further waves of arrests and detentions in August, September, November, and January, the JWSG reported on its Github page.

Among the "disappeared" are Sun Yat-sen University graduate and Jasic movement spokeswoman Shen Mengyu and Peking University #MeToo campaigner Yue Xin.

Shang Kai—a former editor for the Maoist website Red Reference who was supporting the Jasic campaign—was released on "bail" under conditions preventing him from appearing in public.

China holds the highest number of journalists in prison, with at least 60 currently behind bars, according to RSF. The country ranked 176 out of 180 in the 2018 RSF World Press Freedom Index.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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