Politics

Published on May 4th, 2015 | Total Views: | by Ran Lu

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Five Feminists Released, Civil Society Not yet Unfrozen (中国保释五女权人士公民社会状况仍堪忧)

April 14, 2015, 1:20am, Beijing. Wei Tingting, 26, one of the five feminist activists arrested for planning anti-sexual harassment public campaign before the International Women’s Day, was released on bail and picked up by her family from prison. News first came out through a collective Weibo account, “AntiPETD Feminist Doctors’ Organization” which live-broadcast the releasing process, and was confirmed by their representative lawyers.  The rest of her compatriots were released on bail soon after.

The release of Wei marked the end of the government’s 37-day detention of the five feminists (known as the Beijing+20 Five): Li Tingting (Maizi), 25; Wu Rongrong, 30; Zheng Churan (Big Rabbit), 25; Wei Tingting, 26; and Wang Man, 33. However, according to observers and critics, it is far from the beginning of real freedom.

Liang Xiaojun and Wang Qiushi, the feminists’ lawyers, said the release on bail does not indicate the repeal of the case. The investigation continues as the police now pursue new charges against the five, changing from “picking quarrels” to the more severe “organizing crowds to disturb public order, ” both of which if confirmed, can lead to a five-year sentence in prison.

The Five were still regarded as suspected criminals – though without legal evidence – and lived under strict home surveillance by local police. Their laptops and mobile phones were confiscated upon arrest and never returned. Ms. Wu Rongrong reported that she was interrogated by secret police from Beijing on April 23rd and 24th and almost suffered “a nervous breakdown” during the humiliating and threatening process.

Many observers believed that the release is nothing but a temporary retreat of the Chinese government under international and domestic pressure rather than a fundamental change in the attitudes towards human rights issues.

Several US politicians, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ambassador Samantha Power and John Kerry, condemned China’s extralegal detention of the five as “inexcusable” and called upon their immediate release. Their voices were considered extremely crucial for the feminists’ conditional release.

“The purpose of detention is mainly deterrence of the civil society…Without international attention, the probability of release is about 60% or 70%. But with intensive media coverage and international pressure, the probability of release may increase to 80% or 90%,” according to their lawyer, Liang Xiaojun.

“The purpose of detention is mainly deterrence of the civil society…Without international attention, the probability of release is about 60% or 70%. But with intensive media coverage and international pressure, the probability of release may increase to 80% or 90%,” according to their lawyer, Liang Xiaojun.

However, civil society was not entirely silenced by the arrests. Despite the Internet censorship over the incident, news was circulated online and an encrypted petition was signed by over 1,000 sympathizers. The Facebook group Free Chinese Feminists attracted over 4,600 followers, many of which posted their own pictures in support of the Feminist Five’s release.

The crackdown of the Feminist Five reveals the conflict between China’s pronounced legal reform and its government’s increasing suspicion and hostility towards an emerging civil society. Many scholars evaluate the incident negatively.  Professor Wang Zheng, a historian of gender studies from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, described the detention before the International Women’s Day as “so stupid.” She said, “when you detain feminists on the eve of International Women’s Day, you not only trample over the basic national policy of gender equality, you also provoke the international feminists.” She also pointed out the apolitical nature of the Five’s activism. “I said the detention busted the bottom line. These young women didn’t organize a political party, nor are they against the communist party, nor did they engage in separatism. They did not do anything that can be accused of threatening your regime. They were defending women’s rights safeguarded by the law. It is a turning point for women’s rights in China when these activities are outlawed.”

The crackdown of the Feminist Five reveals the conflict between China’s pronounced legal reform and its government’s increasing suspicion and hostility towards an emerging civil society.

Li Yinhe, the noted sociologist specializing in gender studies, described how the detention of the five was, “increasingly absurd,” given China’s relatively good reputation in protecting women’s rights. She also emphasized the feminists’ intended action was purely legal and in correspondence to the official ideology of gender equality. “Not all collective actions will lead to social disturbance,” Li questioned, “Why bother to stop them? If such trivial things like anti-sexual harassment campaigns need to be regulated, ruling China must be a mission impossible. How many police forces are wasted on this?…Do they ever take the already high governance expenditure into account?”

“Why bother to stop them? If such trivial things like anti-sexual harassment campaigns need to be regulated, ruling China must be a mission impossible. How many police forces are wasted on this?…Do they ever take the already high governance expenditure into account?”

Ultimately, many observers believe that the crackdown is not narrowly targeted at feminists but part of the government’s new systematic strategy towards NGOs and grassroots activists. The anti-discrimination NGO, Beijing Yirenping Center, was raided by the police on March 25th for its close ties with the feminists and advocacy for their release. One of the founders of Yirenping, Lu Jun, perceived the raid and arrests of the Five as not, “isolated, incidental events,” but were on a continuum of clampdowns on non-governmental organizations that intensified one year ago.

Maya Wang, researcher for Human Rights Watch, says that China’s control over the civil society will further tighten once the new Foreign NGO Law is approved. The draft law requires all foreign NGOs to submit for approval annual work plans and funding allocations, restrict their reception of foreign funding, and prohibits them from engaging in activities that “endanger…national security, unity and solidarity.” This “differentiated management” of NGOs — punishing some but co-opting others – seems to be the latest regime-preserving strategy, says Wang.

The popularity of civil activism, as these initiated by the feminists, reflects an increasing unwillingness to surrender the public space to the government. Demonization and criminalization of the young activists does not solve the CCP’s legitimacy challenges but creates new problems: eventually it will make an enemy of every segment of civil society.

The Feminist Five incident signals the Xi Administration’s resolution to constrain NGO activism and a burgeoning civil society. The conditional release does not mark the end of the story. However, whether these regime-preserving measures are effective and sustainable in the long-run remains a question. The popularity of civil activism, as these initiated by the feminists, reflects an increasing unwillingness to surrender the public space to the government. Demonization and criminalization of the young activists does not solve the CCP’s legitimacy challenges but creates new problems: eventually it will make an enemy of every segment of civil society.

Image from Wikipedia.


 

中国保释五女权人士 公民社会状况仍堪忧

北京时间2015年4月14日,凌晨1点20分。26岁的韦婷婷,因策划在妇女节前宣传反性骚扰活动而被逮捕的五位女权活动者之一,被家人接出监狱。消息由一直实时关注被捕人士情况的微博账号“AntiPETD女权博士组织” 第一时间放出,其后分别被她们的代理律师梁小军、王秋实证实

韦的获释标志着政府对五位女权主义者——25岁的李婷婷(麦子);30岁的武嵘嵘,25岁的郑楚然(大兔);26岁的韦婷婷和33岁的王曼——长达37日的拘禁暂告一段落。然而,许多人权观察者和评论者认为,这并不是自由真正的开端。

辩护律师之一梁小军表示,保释并不代表案件已经撤销。调查仍在继续,警方转而寻求新的起诉罪名,由之前的“寻讯滋事”转为“聚众扰乱社会治安罪。”任一罪名一旦成立,最高可判处五年监禁。

官方的刑事化态度在五人出狱后的处境上得到完全体现。即使没有正当指控,她们仍被视为犯罪嫌疑人,居住和行动受到当地公安严密监视。她们的电脑和手机也在逮捕期间遭到没收,至今尚未归还。女权主义者之一的武嵘嵘透露,她在4月23、24日连续被来自北京的秘密警察讯问,过程中遭遇多次言语侮辱和威胁,令她“精神几近崩溃”。

很多观察者认为取保候审不过是中国政府在国内外压力下的暂时让步,而非在人权问题上的根本态度转变。包括希拉里·克林顿,美国驻联合国大使萨曼莎·鲍尔,以及现任国务卿约翰·克里在内的美国政治家,纷纷批评对中国“不可原谅的”的拘禁女权主义者行径,号召立即无罪释放她们。这些言论被认为对五人取保候审的决定十分关键。

“官方抓人的目的是为了震慑公民社会、震慑女权运动的行动分子。在起到震慑作用之后就会放人。如果没有国际的关注,放人的比例大约为60%、70%,有媒体的关注和国际舆论的压力,释放被关押的女权人士的可能性就会增加到80%、90%。”梁小军律师说

公民社会并未完全噤声。即使被网络审查制度封锁,这一消息仍然传开了,已有超过1000个同情者在秘密情愿书上签名。Facebook小组“Free Chinese Feminists”吸引了4600多关注者,其中许多人贴出了自己支持释放女权五人士的照片表示抗议。

对五女权人士的镇压体现了中国的矛盾:一面是司法改革,一面是政府对蒸蒸日上的公民社会与日俱增的怀疑和敌意。许多学者给出了负面评价。密歇根大学安娜堡分校的历史学家、女性主义专家王政教授,形容这场于三八妇女节前夕进行的逮捕“太蠢了”:“三八国际妇女节前,抓女权行动者,你不光是违反了男女平等这个基本国策,而且是对全世界的女权主义者一个挑衅。”她也指出了这五位女权人士活动的非政治性,“我说这次的抓捕跌破底线了。她们既没有组党,也没有反党,也没有分裂中国,她们没有做任何你可以指责是威胁你政权的事情。她们就是在维护一些法律规定的基本权益的事情。你连这个都要定成非法,所以这次的事件是一个转折。”

专注于性别研究的著名社会学家李银河将抓人一事形容为“越来越荒诞”,尤其是考虑到中国在保护女性权利方面相对清白的名声。她强调这些女权主义者的行为完全合法,并且符合官方的关于性别平权的主流意识形态。“并不是所有的群聚事件都会导致社会动乱……”李银河问:“为什么要去制止呢?连呼吁反对性骚扰这样的事情都要管起来,中国的事情还管得过来吗?要浪费多少警力?要把警力在现有的基础上增加多少倍才够用?不考虑行政成本问题吗?目前中国的行政成本在世界横向比较中已经是偏高的了,还想让它继续升高吗?”

许多观察者的最终结论是这次镇压不仅仅是针对女权主义者,而是中国政府对NGO和草根行动者最新的系统化的策略。3月25日,反歧视平权公益机构,北京益仁平中心被多名警察查抄。益仁平与被捕的多名女权主义者有过雇佣或合作关系,并为她们的释放积极呼吁。负责人之一陆军认为,这次查抄与对女权人士的逮捕一样,并非孤立的偶发事件,而是一年以来对非政府组织愈发紧密的镇压策略中的一环。

人权观察组织的研究员王松莲(Maya Wang)认为,一旦新的《境外非政府组织管理法》如期通过,中国对公民社会的钳制将愈发收紧。境外非政府组织必须送审年度工作计划和资金配置,收取境外捐助也受到限制,同时被禁止组织或参加“危害…国家统一、安全和民族团结“的活动。她认为这种对NGO区别管理,统战一批打压一批的模式,已经成为中国最新的维稳战略。

女权五人士事件映射出习政府对坚决扼杀NGO行动派和萌芽期的公民社会的决心。对五人的有条件保释并不是故事的结局。然而这套维稳策略是否长期有效、具有可持续性仍然是个疑问。这些女权主义者所倡导的类似独立公民运动的流行,反映了社会对向政府交出公共空间日益增长的排斥。对这些年轻活动家的妖魔化和刑事处理,并不能解决贵党的合法性挑战,反而制造了新的问题:最终它把社会的每一部分都变成了自己的敌人。

 

Ran Lu (Instagram: @lachesisdeneige) / 卢然

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About the Author

is a second-year MPIA student in School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) (formerly IR/PS) majoring in international politics with a regional focus on China. Her research interests include authoritarian regimes, democratization, state-capital relations, and liberal-conservative debates in contemporary China. Ran was born in Tianjin and grew up in Beijing. She received her B.A from Hong Kong Baptist University with First Class Honours in Government and International Studies (GIS) and a minor in French. She also received sponsorship for exchange programs in Kalamazoo College, MI, 2009, and Université Nancy II, France, 2011. Fostering an interest in literature since childhood, she has published two novels, "Jinwan women tiaowu" (2006) and "Weilanse de gaobie" (2010) respectively. Currently, Ran is struggling between the choices of pursuing a Ph.D in sociology or starting a career as a freelance writer.



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