These Women Spent A Month In Jail For "Disturbing Public Order"

Photo: Altaf Qadri/AP Photo.
Chinese authorities have freed five feminist activists who were arrested on March 6 as they planned protests against sexual harassment, according to news reports.

Li Tingting, 25, Wu Rongrong, 30, Zheng Churen, 25, Wei Tingting, 26, and Wang Man, 33, faced up to five years in prison for their protests against gender inequality and sexual harassment and violence. The arrests are only the latest in ongoing efforts by the Chinese government to censor mediacrush dissent, and stifle political activism.

The women were reportedly planning to give out anti-harassment posters and stickers on International Women’s Day on March 8. First, they were held for “picking quarrels,” according to a New York Times report. The feminist protesters have become famous in China for their high-profile actions, which included occupying men’s bathrooms to protest a lack of women’s facilities and marching through the streets of Beijing in bloody wedding dresses to protest domestic violence.

The women, who were arrested with five fellow protesters who were released earlier, faced up to five years in prison on charges of organizing a crowd to disturb public order. Officially, they are still under investigation and could be rearrested at any time. Their release is a big step forward, but Amnesty International called it an “incomplete step” and called on officials to drop charges against the protesters, the Times reported.

While women in the U.S. fight for issues like equal play, family leave, and reproductive freedom, female activists elsewhere are facing tight restrictions on speech and protests — the most obvious point of reference being the band Pussy Riot, who saw two members sentenced to prison terms in Russia following a protest action.

One Chinese activist told Foreign Policy that the government has been cracking down as protesters become more outspoken. “We just never thought detention of our activists would come at this particular point, because we believed that young women had some space to express their views. But now, it seems that that space has disappeared completely,” Zhao Sile said in March.
International leaders denounced the Chinese government’s decision to jail the women; Hillary Clinton called the decision “inexcusable,” and Vice President Joe Biden tweeted, “the rights of women and girls should never be suppressed.”

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