China: Jailed activists expose President Xi’s hypocrisy on women’s human rights ahead of UN summit

26 September 2015, 00:01 UTC

The Chinese government must stop repressing female activists if it is serious about advancing women and girls human rights, Amnesty International said ahead of a United Nations meeting of world leaders on gender equality co-hosted by China and UN Women.

President Xi Jinping is due to chair the meeting on women’s empowerment this Sunday at the UN in New York, despite the Chinese authorities still detaining at least 11 women human rights activists and persecuting scores more since he came to power. 

In the past two years, the Chinese authorities have also shutdown three women’s rights NGOs as part of a wider crackdown against civil society.

“It is hypocritical of President Xi Jinping to use the world stage to proclaim the importance of women’s human rights while the Chinese authorities continue to throw in jail women fighting for these rights,” said Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International.

“The Chinese government continues to silence women like Su Changlan and Wang Yu. These are the voices that must be heard if women’s human rights and gender equality are to advance.”
The meeting is part of the ‘Beijing +20’ celebrations, to mark 20 years since governments gathered in the Chinese capital to commit to the empowerment of women and gender equality around the world.

Intimidation and harassment

The significant progress China has made on poverty reduction and access to education for women and girls is being seriously undermined by the continued intimidation, harassment and detention of women human rights activists.

Su Changlan, a 44-year-old former primary school teacher from southern China, could face up to 15 years in prison for the charge of “inciting subversion of state power”, though the formal indictment is still pending. She has campaigned for an end to violence against women, early or forced marriage, and helped victims of China’s coercive family planning system.

Leading human rights lawyer Wang Yu, who has campaigned against sexual harassment of school girls and defended prominent women human rights activists, was detained at the beginning of July this year as part of an unprecedented crackdown against lawyers in China. She is being held at a secret location on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”.

In May, independent journalist Gao Yu was sentenced to seven years in jail on the spurious charge of disclosing state secrets. There are serious concerns for Gao Yu’s health, which has deteriorated since her detention.

Death in detention

The Chinese authorities are still to hold anyone to account for the death in detention of Cao Shunli, who died of organ failure last March. Repeated requests by Cao’s family for her to receive medical treatment for her serious health problems were denied. Cao had been detained since September 2013, when Beijing police prevented her from travelling to Geneva to attend a human rights training programme.

In March, five women’s rights activists were detained for planning to mark International Women’s Day with a campaign against sexual harassment. The five activists - Wei Tingting, Wang Man, Wu Rongrong, Li Tingting and Zheng Churan – were released on bail after a month, following an international outcry against their detention, but they could still face charges.

The five women continue to be harassed by the authorities. Earlier this week, Li Tingting revealed that her landlord has come under pressure from local police and the neighbourhood committee to evict her.

“These courageous women, and many others like them, are paying a high price for their dedication to advancing women’s human rights and empowerment,” said Roseann Rife.

“The clearest signal President Xi Jinping could give to show China is serious about empowering women is to ensure the immediate release of these detained activists. The Chinese authorities should work with them, not against them.”

China's unprecedented crackdown against human rights activists