‘Urgent’ search after disappearance of Chinese MeToo activist due to study in UK

27-Sep-2021 Intellasia | The Telegraph | 5:02 AM Print This Post

The Foreign Office is “urgently” investigating the disappearance of a prominent Chinese women’s rights activist who is due to study in the UK on a Chevening scholarship this autumn.

Huang Xueqin, 33, has now been missing for nearly a week, disappearing one day before she was scheduled to leave Guangzhou for the UK to study in a master’s programme at the University of Sussex.

Her friend, prominent labour activist Wang Jianbing who planned to see her off at the airport, also went missing the same day.

“We are urgently looking into reports that friends of Huang Xueqin lost contact with her on 19 September,” a Foreign Office spokesperson said.

Human rights groups fear both have been detained by Chinese authorities, likely due to their activism, and could face a charge of “inciting subversion of state authority” for hosting private gatherings.

The Chinese government frequently uses vague charges, including “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, as a way to silence dissidents.

The University of Sussex has expressed concern about Ms Huang’s case. “We are concerned about this situation and are seeking further details,” it said in a statement.

Chevening is a government-funded scholarship programme that brings outstanding individuals for graduate studies in the UK.

‘A blow to China’s MeToo movement’

Ms Huang’s disappearance is yet another blow to China’s fledgling MeToo movement, which is already under pressure as the government widens its crackdown on all kinds of dissent.

“Chinese officials are likely launching another round of crackdowns on civil society ahead of next year’s Beijing Winter Olympics,” said Ramona Li, senior researcher for Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a consortium of rights groups.

“Authorities have been going after any attempt to form associations, assemble peacefully, or to build communities of mutual support, apparently seeing them as ‘threats’ to national security,” she said.

Ms Huang rose to prominence in 2018 after helping dozens of women report sexual harassment, which eventually led to changes in Chinese laws to recognise such abuse as a civil offence.

But her work brought her to the attention of Chinese authorities. In 2019, she was forcibly detained for three months ostensibly over her activism, which included critical comments about the mainland’s restrictions on free speech.

The women’s rights movement in China has long faced challenges, with feminist activists like Ms Huang suppressed by the authorities and courts dismissing the few legal cases some women have dared to file.

Last week, a Beijing court dismissed a landmark case filed by Zhou Xiaoxuan, a former intern for China’s state broadcaster who accused Zhu Jun, a popular anchor, for groping and forcibly kissing her.

The court ruled that her complaint didn’t meet the burden of proof, after the case languished on the docket for three years with no movement.

Online discussion of Ms Zhou’s case was censored comments supporting her and pages that focused on women’s rights were scrubbed off the internet.

Earlier in September, another high-profile case involving rape allegations against a Chinese tech executive at Alibaba was also dropped.

In 2015, five Chinese feminists were arrested and detained for 37 days in Beijing for planning to commemorate International Women’s Day by handing out stickers about sexual harassment on the subway.

But the women’s rights movement has found creative ways to stay afloat. After the MeToo hashtag became one of the most censored topics online in China, people started tagging posts with #ricebunny. In Mandarin, the words “rice bunny” or mi tu are a homophone for “Me Too.”

It’s not unusual that Ms Huang went missing just as she was hoping to travel and study abroad. She and Wang reportedly had their personal property searched and confiscated shortly before she was scheduled to leave.

China has long restricted activists and dissidents, including artist Ai Weiwei, from travelling abroad, over concerns that they may be even more critical overseas or apply for asylum, which would be embarrassing for Beijing.

Ethnic Uyghurs and Tibetans often aren’t granted passports. This year, the Chinese government also stopped issuing and renewing passports for all citizens, with authorities citing public health reasons.

https://sg.news.yahoo.com/foreign-office-urgently-looking-disappearance-123522230.html

 

Category: China

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