In advance of International Women’s Day on March 8 of this year, China arrested several women’s rights activists campaigning against sexual harassment. While some activists have since been released, five well-known female leaders remain in detention. They include Wu Rongrong, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, Zheng Churan and Li Tingting - also known as Li Maizi.
The women had planned to organize protests in several Chinese cities March 8, to highlight the problem of sexual harassment. The five activists were charged by police March 12 with “creating a disturbance, picking quarrels and provoking troubles”.
This sweeping charge is often used by Chinese authorities to silence and detain government critics. A guilty verdict can carry a sentence of up to five years in prison.
“If China is committed to advancing the rights of women,” said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, “then it should be working to address the issues raised by these women’s rights activists – not silencing them. The United States calls on China to release immediately the [detained activists] and partner with them to help ensure that men and women everywhere are able to live free from harassment and violence.”
Twenty years ago, then First Lady Hillary Clinton famously told a gathering of world leaders in Beijing that “human rights are women's rights...and women's rights are human rights.” But in this case, said Ambassador Power, what Hillary Clinton said next is even more apt: “Let us not forget that among those rights is the right to speak freely. And the right to be heard.”
The continued detention of the Chinese activists, said Ambassador Power, “reminds us that women’s rights cannot advance when other basic human rights are denied. Moreover, men and women alike will suffer when the worthy desire of individuals to address pressing social problems is stifled under the false banner of ‘creating a disturbance.’”