Loading Now
Rights Advocates Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing Sentenced to Prison After Nearly 1,000 Days in Detention
Rights Advocates Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing Sentenced to Prison After Nearly 1,000 Days in Detention

Rights Advocates Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing Sentenced to Prison After Nearly 1,000 Days in Detention

Journalist and feminist activist Huang Xueqin and labor-rights activist Wang Jianbing were convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to prison for five years and three and a half years, respectively, by the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court on Friday. The sentencing was widely condemned by international rights groups who decried what they saw as a particularly harsh punishment for exercising freedom of speech and supporting victims of patriarchal and capitalist abuse. Helen Davidson at The Guardian reported on the outcome of Huang and Wang’s trial:

On Friday, supporters of the pair said the court had found them guilty and given Huang the maximum sentence. The jail terms would take into account the time they had already spent in detention. A copy of the verdict said Huang was also deprived of political rights for four years and fined $100,000 RMB (£10,800). Wang faced three years of deprivation of political rights and was fined $50,000 RMB.

Huang told the court she intended to appeal, the supporters said.

“[The sentence] was longer than we expected,” said a spokesperson for the campaign group Free Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing, asking to remain anonymous for safety concerns. “I don’t think it should have been this severe, and it is completely unnecessary. So we support Huang Xueqin’s intention to appeal.” [Source]

Two anonymous diplomats told Reuters that consular representatives from the U.S., Denmark, France, Germany, New Zealand, and the U.K. attempted to attend the court proceedings but were refused entry. Authorities concealed the status of both defendants throughout most of their detention, during which Huang was allegedly tortured and reduced to poor health. Alexandra Stevenson and Zixu Wang from The New York Times described the various illegal prosecutorial methods employed against Huang and Wang:

Ms. Huang and Mr. Wang were arrested in 2021 and endured an unusually long pretrial detention of two years. The trial last September lasted a day.

The verdict did not come for nine months, even though China’s criminal procedure law stipulates a maximum wait of three months, with an additional three-month extension for exceptional cases.

[…] The authorities detained the two at Mr. Wang’s home in Guangzhou one day before Ms. Huang had planned to leave China to begin a master’s program on gender studies in Britain. Both were held without access to lawyers for 47 days before any formal arrest notices were shared with family and friends, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

Dozens of Mr. Wang and Ms. Huang’s friends were questioned after their arrest, and many were forced to sign testimonies against them, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders. [Source]

Criticizing the court’s decision, a friend of both Huang and Wang said, “Using national security as a reason to suppress civil society activists is a bad signal that denies the value of social justice and rejects the moderate voices of civil society.” Yaqiu Wang added that “this whole prosecution is just one cruel farce that only reveals how fearful the CCP feels about Chinese people’s desire for basic rights.” Shibani Mahtani at The Washington Post described the significance of their harsh sentencing for Chinese civil society: 

“The ultimate goal of sham prosecutions as such is to decimate any remaining civil society space, so Chinese people only exist as isolated individuals that have no agency, no thinking of their own and no power to resist state control,” said [Yaqiu Wang, research director for China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan at Freedom House].

The feminism embodied by Huang is also something Beijing has tried to quash in recent years, including by persecuting other feminist activists, censoring feminist content online and shutting down feminist groups.

“Feminism itself will continue to be viewed as subversive because one of its core demands is that women be free to control their own bodies and lives,” said Leta Hong Fincher, author of “Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China.”

Given Huang was one of the most prominent activists in kick-starting China’s #MeToo campaign, “a harsh verdict seems likely to be designed as a warning to other activists,” she added. [Source]

Human Rights Watch’s China Director Maya Wang commented on the verdict: “An outrageous and unacceptable sentence for two young people who have done nothing wrong but fight for justice and equality for women and workers.” Amnesty International’s China Director Sarah Brooks criticized their “malicious” conviction and emphasized Beijing’s growing fear of dissent:

“In reality, they have committed no actual crime. Instead, the Chinese government has fabricated excuses to deem their work a threat, and to target them for educating themselves and others about social justice issues such as women’s dignity and workers’ rights.

“#MeToo activism has empowered survivors of sexual violence around the world, but in this case the Chinese authorities have sought to do the exact opposite by stamping it out.

“These malicious and totally groundless convictions show just how terrified the Chinese government is of the emerging wave of activists who dare to speak out to protect the rights of others.

“Sophia Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing have been jailed solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and they must be immediately and unconditionally released.” [Source]

Huang and Wang’s detention was related to weekly gatherings of friends hosted at Wang’s apartment. At CNN, Nectar Gan highlighted the importance and precarity of their community-building amid this era of intense state repression:

Huang’s close friend said participants of the gatherings were a loose group of friends who cared about public affairs – from feminism, LGBTQ and labor rights to environmental protection. In addition to sharing their experiences and views, they also played board games and sometimes went hiking together.

[…] “It’s a community where everyone supports each other. But it’s been disbanded ever since the detention. I have no sense of belonging anymore,” the friend told CNN last year ahead of the closed-door trial.

“The crackdown by authorities turned us into isolated atoms – it is difficult for everyone to band together again. The entire community is suppressed and silenced.” [Source]