'Vulnerable' Women Activists Struggle to Rebuild Lives After Detention

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An undated photo of Chinese feminist activist Li Tingting, one of five women's rights activists still under surveillance after their 2015 release on bail.
An undated photo of Chinese feminist activist Li Tingting, one of five women's rights activists still under surveillance after their 2015 release on bail.

At least two of the five Chinese feminists detained ahead of International Women's Day as they planned a public campaign against sexual harassment are still struggling to recover from their ordeal after being released "on bail" from criminal detention on public order charges.

Wu Rongrong, Li Tingting, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, and Zheng Churan were released "on bail" earlier this month after being detained on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" on March 6.

Wu, who has been diagnosed with Hepatitis B, and who spent some of her detention in a police hospital, told RFA that her life was put in danger by her lack of access to needed medication while she was in detention.

"I didn't get the medication I needed while I was in the detention center," said Wu, whose medication was confiscated when she was held in Beijing's police-run Haidian District Detention Center.

"The doctor told me this was very dangerous for me, and that there's a likelihood of liver failure," Wu said.

"They are still trying to get me back on track, because I was supposed to have been on that medication for three years straight with missing a single dose," she said.

"Since I got back, my doctor has been very worried about me, and has told me that I can't have another break in the medication, on any account," Wu said in an interview on Monday.

'Vulnerable person'

The five women, whose detention prompted an international outcry, are still regarded as criminal suspects, and will have police restrictions in place on their movements for a year after their release.

Wu's defense attorney Lu Zhoubin described her as a "vulnerable" person, adding that police had also interrogated her since her release on bail.

"Wu Rongrong is a very vulnerable person," Lu said. "The authorities have no evidence to prove that Wu Rongrong committed any crime, and the state prosecutor never approved her formal arrest."

"But recently they have been back to interrogate Wu Rongrong, and ask her questions that they have already asked her hundreds of times in the detention center," he said.

"So we will be applying to have this case dropped."

Wu said she had been videotaped before her release saying that she had been well-treated during her incarceration, but Lu said she acted "under duress."

"Such use of threats is very common in cases involving civil rights," Lu said. "She said they had treated her well because she wanted to get out of there as soon as possible."

Terrified by threats

Wu said she had been terrified by threats made during interrogation, while she was in detention, including the threat of being left in the men's section of the facility, where she would be gang-raped.

"I was so scared," she said. "I cried, because my son is only four years old, and I had nightmares that night."

"The next day, when they interrogated me, I asked if they would really put me in the male section, which they didn't expect me to ask," she said.

"After that, they started interrogating me with the video camera rolling, and he acted like he hadn't heard me say that."

"Before I went through the bail process, they asked me some questions [about my time inside]," Wu said.

"But I was afraid that if I gave the wrong answers they wouldn't let me leave, and I was still being subjected to mistreatment, so I was hardly going to make life even harder for myself."

"All I could do was say that everything was fine and that I was well treated," she said.

Struggling to rebuild

Meanwhile, fellow detainee Li Tingting said she is also still struggling to rebuild her life after her ordeal.

"I am suffering from digestive problems, especially at night when I try to go to sleep," Li said in an interview on Monday.

"When I am severely sleep-deprived, I feel terrible for the whole day, and my energy and mood is very low, and it's very easy for my mood to totally collapse," she said.

Li said she also appears to have lost her job amid a nationwide crackdown on nongovernmental groups and grassroots charity organizations by China's state security police around the time of the five activists' detention.

"As for the future, I think we will have to see what sort of the attitude the government takes," Li said. "I work at Yirenping, but the doors are locked and the locks have been changed, so there's no way I can go back to work."

Li added: "My passport has been confiscated, so I can't leave the country. So I really don't know what the future holds."

"I think things are going to get tougher and tougher in future for us," she said.

"But while the five of us may have suffered, I think it has brought the issue of women's rights to the attention of many more people, and made even more people determined to fight for the feminist cause," Li said.

"And I think that's pretty good."

Little progress made

The ruling Chinese Communist Party has promoted gender equality, at least in theory, since it came to power in 1949.

But campaigners say the reality is very different on the ground, and that discrimination still presents major obstacles for Chinese women, who face habitual workplace discrimination, harassment and domestic violence.

When Beijing hosted the Fourth World Conference on Women 20 years ago, the conference laid down a long-term program of improvements to the rights and opportunities offered to women and girls around the world, with requirements for governments to report back to the United Nations on the changes.

The Beijing Declaration pledged to "ensure equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all women and girls."

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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