After two years in detention, a Chinese journalist who spoke out against sexual harassment went on trial on subversion charges Friday along with a labor rights activist, the latest example of Beijing’s intensified crackdown on civil society. .
Huang Xueqin, an independent journalist who was once a prominent voice in China’s #MeToo movement, and his friend Wang Jianbing, the activist, were picked up by the police in September 2021 and later charged with inciting the overthrow of state power. Their trial was held at the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court in southern China.
Little is known about the government’s case, but the vaguely worded offense with which the two are charged has long been seen as a tool for muzzling dissent. Since China’s supreme leader, Xi Jinping, came to power in 2012, the ruling Communist Party has sought to silence people fighting for free speech and political rights. A steady stream of activists, lawyers, tycoons and intellectuals were tried and sentenced.
In the cases of Ms. Huang and Mr. Wang, authorities questioned dozens of their friends in the months following their imprisonment and forced them to sign testimonies against the two, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy group in close contact with many. activists.
“This case shows the crushing of the entire civil society,” said Lu Pin, a feminist activist. “From detention to trial, the authorities acted arbitrarily without rules.”
Ms. Huang emerged as a key activist in China’s growing #MeToo movement in early 2018, when she created a social media platform for reporting sexual harassment. He organized and published surveys that found it widespread in universities and workplaces. A champion of women’s rights to speak out about harassment, Ms. Huang subjected himself to a colleague at a national news organization.
When the police in Guangzhou picked him up in 2021, it wasn’t the first time. He was jailed in 2019 after writing and participating in anti-government protests in Hong Kong. At that time, Ms. Huang wrote a handwritten account of his imprisonment, titled “Being a journalist is not a crime”; It was later posted on a GitHub webpage, run by supporters of Ms. Huang and Mr. Wang, who collected details about their cases.
Mr. Wang works to improve the rights of people with disabilities as well as workers. She is also a #MeToo advocate who tries to help victims of harassment speak out.
The police detained Ms. Huang and Mr. Wang at her home a day before she plans to leave China to begin a master’s program in gender studies in Britain, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders. The two were detained for 47 days without access to lawyers before formal notice of the arrest was shared with their friends, the rights group.
“For the last 10 years the government has completely undermined civil society and divided it,” said William Nee, the group’s research and advocacy coordinator. “I think it’s telling that they stopped him on his way to the airport.”
A United Nations working group on arbitrary detentions raised concerns about Mr. Wang.
China’s #MeToo movement gained momentum in 2018 as activists across the country posted petitions online demanding investigations into sexual harassment. Ms.’s own investigation. Huang’s harassment of female students by a professor at Beihang University prompted China’s education ministry to strip the professor of his title.
But shortly after China’s internet lit up the #MeToo movement, state censors stepped in, making it difficult to organize marches and build public support. Some officials have warned activists that if they speak out, they will be punished and seen as traitors.
“Feminism itself has been identified as a subversive subject,” Leta Hong Fincher, author of “Big Brother’s Betrayal: China’s Feminist Awakening,” said in an interview.
“Partly that’s because you have activists like Huang Xueqin who are very organized and very determined,” he added.
No legal documents about the case have been made public. Reached by phone this week, an employee at Guangzhou’s Intermediate People’s Court said he had no information to provide.
But supporters said they believed the defendants were being punished for regularly attending gatherings at Mr. Wang, where people interested in civil society regularly meet to discuss social issues and for moral support.
Amnesty International said Ms. Huang is believed to have been subjected to ill-treatment in detention and that his health has deteriorated significantly.
“Sophia Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing represent a brave wave of young Chinese activists who are connected to the public concerned about social issues,” said Sarah Brooks, a deputy regional director for Amnesty International. , using a Western name adopted by Ms. Huang.
“They were targeted for their peaceful activism on women’s rights and labor in a government that fears organized opposition,” said Ms. Brooks.
In April, China sentenced Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi, two of the country’s most prominent human rights lawyers, to 14 years and 12 years in prison, respectively, after they organized a gathering of about 20 lawyer and activist to discuss the rights of Chinese citizens. They were also charged with inciting subversion.