The Chinese authorities must immediately drop charges and release five women activists who were detained for calling for an end to sexual harassment, Amnesty International said.
The five women – Wei Tingting, Wang Man, Li Tingting, Zheng Churan and Wu Rongrong -were criminally detained on Thursday for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” If convicted each face a maximum of five years in prison.
“Demanding that women are not sexually harassed is in no way a criminal act,” said William Nee, Amnesty International China Researcher.
“The charges against all five women should be dropped and the women immediately and unconditionally released. The Chinese authorities should be working with these women to address sexual harassment, not persecuting them.”
The women have been detained since last Saturday when they were taken into police custody ahead of events they had planned for International Women’s Day on 8 March. All five women are now believed to be held at Haidian Police Station in Beijing.
The women are members of China’s Women’s Rights Action Group. They had made stickers printed with slogans
“Stop sexual harassment, let us stay safe” and “Go police, go arrest those who committed sexual harassment!” which they planned to distribute at the events.
On Saturday, the day of the arrests, a friend of Wu Rongrong received a call from her and heard cries of pain.
The line was cut almost instantly and she could not be reached again.
“It is chilling that women calling on police to investigate sexual harassment end up as targets,” said William Nee.
The police confiscated the women’s computers, phones, and materials for the events they were planning to mark International Women’s Day.
Police also raided Weizhiming Women Centre office in Hangzhou, a women’s rights NGO that Wu Rongrong founded and where Zheng Churan and Li Tingting work.
In recent months, the authorities have cracked down on independent grassroots non-governmental organizations.
Civil society leaders have been subjected to rigorous questioning about their sources of funding and their activities.