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#FREETHEFIVE

As world leaders debate Beijing equality, five Chinese feminists remain behind bars

Oiwan Lam
By Oiwan Lam

Regional Editor for Northeast Asia, Global Voices

The five young women who were arrested by Chinese police ahead of International Women’s Day have now been missing for more than one week. Criminally detained on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” the police have so far refused to reveal further information.

Civic groups in Hong Kong will protest to representatives of the mainland Chinese government in the city on Mar. 21 demanding their release.

The five women’s right activists are Wu Rongrong, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, Zheng Churan and Li Tingting, also known as Li Maizi. Their families and lawyers have been unable to reach them since their detention and police are not releasing any details about their whereabouts.

Both the United States and the European Union have expressed concern over the women. US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, criticized Chinese authorities for arresting the activists apparently using the premise that the planned protests against sexual harassment might cause “disturbances:”

Despite hostile political conditions, women, students and workers’ organizations from mainland Chinese continue to speak out for the release of the five through online petitions and social media.

Outside China, feminist and civic groups from all over the world have condemned the Chinese authorities’ brutal crackdown. Amnesty International has launched a campaign page on Tumblr. Twitter hashtag #FreeTheFive is being used to muster support all over the world.

Additionally, ad hoc feminist group Free Chinese Feminists has launched its own signature campaign as well as a postcard campaign. The group urged supporters to send the postcards to Beijing, demanding the release of the women.

Meanwhile in Malaysia, a country with a large Chinese population, 26 organizations have co-signed a statement condemning the Chinese authorities and expressing concern over the safety of the young feminists.

Taiwanese feminist groups have also expressed their outrage over the arrest, urging president Ma Ying Jeou to include issues related to human rights and gender equity on his agenda during cross-strait dialogue.

Since Chinese authorities seem currently unaffected by the mostly online criticism, a number of civic groups in Hong Kong announced plans to  protest in front of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Hong Kong, at which time they hope to present a statement signed by dozens of local civic groups and as many individuals as possible on Mar. 21.

The imprisonments coincide with the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, currently taking place at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. The session’s main focus “will be on the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, including current challenges that affect its implementation and the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women,” according to its website. It appears the detention of five feminists in Beijing has now become a case study on the barriers to achieving those aims.