Sophia Huang holds up a #MeToo sign

China: #MeToo and labour activists facing ‘baseless’ trial must be released

Two Chinese activists whose trial begins on Friday are facing lengthy jail terms simply because Beijing authorities fear their peaceful activism, Amnesty International said today as it joined dozens of civil society groups in calling for their release.

#MeToo activist Sophia Huang Xueqin and labour activist Wang Jianbing are accused of “inciting subversion of state power” and face prison sentences of up to five years, or longer if they are considered “ringleaders”. Ahead of their trial in the south-eastern Chinese city of Guangzhou, 32 NGOs issued a joint statement demanding the charges against them are dropped.

“Sophia Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing represent the courageous wave of younger Chinese activists who have connected with the public concerned about social issues. They have been targeted for their peaceful activism on women’s and labour rights by a government that fears organized dissent,” said Sarah Brooks, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for China.

“These baseless charges are motivated purely by the Chinese authorities’ relentless determination to crush critical voices. But activists in China refuse to be silenced despite the serious risks of raising their voices to address so-called ’sensitive’ issues.”  

Sophia Huang Xueqin is a journalist who has been involved in several #MeToo campaigns to provide support and assistance to survivors of sexual assault and harassment. Wang Jianbing has provided legal support for people with disabilities and workers with occupational diseases. He is also a prominent supporter of the #MeToo movement in China.

Across the globe, the #MeToo movement has helped empower survivors of sexual violence. Yet in China, #MeToo activism is met with arrest.

Sarah Brooks, Amnesty International

The pair were arrested in the Chinese city of Guangzhou on 19 September 2021, the day before Huang was planning to leave China for the UK to study for a master’s degree.

Since their arrest, both activists have been prevented or seeing family members. Meanwhile, dozens of their friends have been summoned by the police and had their homes searched and devices confiscated. Sophie Huang Xueqin is believed to have been subjected to ill-treatment in detention, leading to the dramatic deterioration of her health.

“Across the globe, the #MeToo movement has helped empower survivors of sexual violence. Yet in China, #MeToo activism is met with arrest, prosecution and ill-treatment. This case perfectly illustrates the dire state of freedom of expression in the country and how it prevents the full realization of women’s rights.”

In January 2023, Sophia Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing were transferred to Guangzhou City No 1 Detention Centre, awaiting trial at the court. Their ongoing detention is believed to be related to their attendance at weekly gatherings with fellow activists, hosted by Wang Jianbing.

The Chinese authorities systematically use national security charges with extremely vague provisions, such as “subverting state power” and “inciting subversion of state power”, to prosecute lawyers, scholars, journalists, activists and NGO workers.  

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined in 2022 that Wang Jianbing is being arbitrarily detained and has repeatedly called on China to repeal the crime of “inciting subversion” or bring it into line with international standards.

In the joint statement, the groups call for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Sophia Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing and urge the Chinese authorities to “stop harassing, arresting and threatening other human rights defenders”.

“Pending their release, the Chinese authorities must respect and protect their rights in detention, including regular, unrestricted access to family and lawyers of their choice; prompt, adequate and necessary medical treatment; and that they are not subjected to torture and other ill-treatment,” the statement added.

Other NGOs signing the joint statement include Reporters Without Borders, Safeguard Defenders and The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders. The full list of signatories can be found here.