Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have criminally detained a prominent labor activist who helped striking workers at the Yue Yuen shoe factory in one of the largest-ever work stoppages at a private business in the country, his boss and lawyer said on Wednesday.
Lin Dong of the non-governmental group Shenzhen Chunfeng Labor Justice Service Department was detained on April 22 after the group helped some 40,000 employees of the shoe factory in Dongguan city organize the strike over social security payments and other benefits.
His boss Zhang Zhiru was held under "soft detention" at a tourist resort by state security police on the same day, before being released without charge two days later.
Lin is now being held in Guangdong's Dongguan municipal detention center on charges of stirring up trouble, Zhang said.
"The police ... told me that Lin Dong is under criminal detention for 'picking quarrels and stirring up trouble' because they say he posted some fake information online which disrupted public order," Zhang told RFA on Wednesday.
"I don't accept this," he said, adding that the police claim that Lin had posted to the popular chatroom site QQ could have been based on forged posts.
"There are a lot of posts online that are made in my name, with my photo as well," Zhang said. "They say I am a lawyer who specializes in labor cases, but I'm not a lawyer."
Lin's lawyer Pang Kun said his client didn't believe his actions amounted to a public order offense.
"But when I asked the police, they refused to share details of the case with me," Pang said. "This is illegal."
"According to section 26 of the Criminal Procedure Law, the defense attorney is entitled to get an explanation of the charges and relevant details from the investigating agency," he said.
Yue Yuen strike
Strikers returned to work at the Yue Yuen factory complex owned by Taiwan-invested Yue Yuen Industrial (Holdings) in Dongguan's Dongbu township last week after management agreed to fully pay into the social security and housing funds starting May 1.
Some hailed the settlement as a partial victory for the workforce, but some workers said they were forced to return to work anyway by government officials and riot police, who had turned out in force since the strike began on April 5.
Zhang said his Chunfeng group was ultimately unable to influence the strike in any meaningful way.
And labor expert Wang Jiangsong told the Associated Press that local governments should beware of the effects of detaining independent advocates like Lin.
"I think the local governments have not truly understood President Xi Jinping's statement that to maintain social stability is to safeguard people's rights," Wang told the AP.
"What they have done may keep social stability in the short term, but it will add to social tensions in the long run."
Lin's detention also raises further questions over the ruling Chinese Communist Party's willingness to tolerate any independent organization of workers.
The party-backed All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is charged with protecting workers' rights, but independent labor groups and workers say it has a poor track record when it comes to negotiating with management and government officials.
Meanwhile, rights groups say police are increasingly employing public order offenses as a means of silencing peaceful activism on almost any topic.
Yue Yuen's Dongguan plant is one of the world's largest shoe manufacturing facilities, producing sports footwear for foreign brands including Nike, Adidas, Puma and New Balance, and is partly owned by Taiwanese investors, according to its website.
The Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin recorded 202 labor disputes in the country during the first quarter of 2014, mostly in the manufacturing sector, a year-on-year increase of more than 30 percent as China's economic growth slows.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.