The first three of the activists to be detained as criminal suspects. Photo from CLB.
For background see “The criminalization of strikes since 2012“.
On December 3rd, one day before China’s Legal Governance Promotion Day (法制宣传日), at least 21 activists were apprehended from their homes and offices. At least ten are still being held by the police. These include four leaders of labor NGOs: Zeng Feiyang (曾飞洋) of Guangzhou’s Panyu Dagongzu Service Center (番禺打工族服务中心), He Xiaobo (何晓波) of Foshan’s Nanfeiyan Social Work Service Organization (南飞雁社 会工作服务中心), Chen Huihai (陈辉海) of Guangzhou’s Haige Labor Service Center (海哥劳工服务部) and Peng Jiayong (彭家勇) of the Panyu-based Laborer Mutual Aid Group (劳动者互助小组), along with six other people who have worked with these organizations — Zhu Xiaomei 朱小梅, Tang Jian 汤建, Xin Minyan 辛敏妍, Chen Yingying 陈莹莹, Deng Xiaoming 邓小明, and Meng Han 孟晗.
Police broke into the offices and homes of the labor activists, searching and confiscating belongings under several different charges commonly used to harass social activists. He Xiaobo was arrested under charges of embezzlement, stopped by police as he left his house. Police then entered He’s apartment and seized all of his electronics, along with his accounting records and materials from various trainings he had attended. Zeng, meanwhile, was arrested on the sweeping charges of “inciting crowds to disrupt public order”. Of the ten activists who remain in the custody of the police, only Chen Huihai can be contacted, though his location remains unknown; the other nine are currently unreachable. He Xiaobo’s wife has tracked down information that he is currently in the hands of the Foshan Economic Crime Investigation Unit, a unit usually reserved for severe cases of corruption. Activists in China are regularly arrested under broad and ill-defined charges such as “disrupting public order”, “disorderly behavior”, and “illegal business operation.” This is a flagrant attempt to eliminate these four organizations and their labor rights activism from the Pearl River Delta.
It is unclear how long police plan to hold the ten activists. Their arrest is the latest in a series of attacks on civil society activists that began this year with the March 7th arrest of the Feminist Five as they were planning an anti-sexual harassment action on public buses. The five were held for over a month in inhumane conditions, forced to sleep on cold floors and interrogated for hours on end. One activist was denied medicine for her chronic liver condition until she had to be sent to the Detention Center’s medical facility. Incidents of repression this year have also included the June arrests of activists Guo Bin and Yang Zhanqing, who worked on rights for the disabled and consumer rights issues, respectively, and who had both previously worked for anti-healthcare discrimination organization Beijing Yirenping. This was followed by the arrest of over a hundred human rights lawyers in July.
Those arrested December 3rd have all at one time worked at the Panyu Dagongzu Service Center, which has been working to promote workers’ rights since 2002. It is expected authorities will try to charge these four separate organizations as a single entity in order to strengthen charges against them. This is not the government’s first move against these primarily Guangzhou based labor activists. Labor organizations Sunflower Women Workers Service Center (向阳花) and Nanfeiyan had their organizational registration retracted mid-year, and several organizations including Sunflower have been forced out by their landlords in a classic indirect attack to sweep organizations out of town. The government is also currently pursuing the passage of a Foreign NGO Management Law, which would strictly regulate the operation of foreign NGOs and the use of foreign funding in mainland China. While the law is still undergoing revisions and has not yet been passed, the crackdown on civil society organizations is closely linked with the attempt to eliminate all “external” influences from Chinese civil society.
The four organizations attacked December 4th have been a major force in defending workers and promoting labor rights awareness in the Pearl River Delta. As China’s economy begins to show signs of decline and withheld wages and factory closures become increasingly common, the government appears to be steadily eliminating sources of independent support for workers’ struggles. This is not only a crackdown on four organizations, but a pre-emptive crackdown on workers’ labor rights.
We will continue to post with updates in the following days.