Chen Wenying, the 70-year old mother of detained labor activist Zeng Feiyang, knew that suing Xinhua for defamation of her son could lead to problems. She worried about pressure on her whole family, including her grandsons, but filed the suit because she felt Zeng was being smeared in state media without a trial, or even a visit from a lawyer.
““I know my son, he’s a good man,” Chen said in a phone interview in April soon after the suit was filed, in which she mentioned her fears. “Something doesn’t seem right. After four months only my son hasn’t been granted access to his defense attorney. If he broke the law, he will have to face the consequences, but I have to see my son so I can have some peace of mind.”
But the pressure from authorities has apparently been greater than she anticipated. Just a few weeks after filing the lawsuit, she’s dropping it, a relative tells Quartz, because of the relentless harassment of Zeng’s family by local authorities. Chen refused a follow-up interview, and family members say she has been warned by the authorities not to speak to foreign media. Her lawyer said Monday (May 2) that he didn’t even know she was dropping the case.
Zeng’s entire extended family has been under great pressure from the authorities since Chen presented the case against Xinhua, according to a family member who wish to remain anonymous. Last Sunday, Chen’s ID was taken by the police, who told her they were confiscating it to provide a “helpful service” and drop the case on her behalf.
Zeng’s wife, a school teacher, has been not only been visited regularly by police, but her job has been threatened by the management at the school where she works, which demanded she keep a low profile since Zeng’s detention if she wanted to remain employed.
Cousins and nephews of Zeng have received phone calls from blocked numbers telling them that “those who are inside cannot come out, and those outside will bear the consequences for generations to come,” one family member said, an apparent reference to Zeng, who is being detained “inside,” and his family on the “outside.” “Those who are inside cannot come out, and those outside will bear the consequences for generations to come,” the anonymous caller said.
“They know where I work and they’ve come to visit me several times,” the relative added.
Chen’s lawyer Chang Weiping said in a telephone interview it was news to him that the family was dropping the case. “I cannot immediately confirm if they’ve finally succumbed and dropped out,” he said May 2. “I haven’t been informed, (but) she can drop the case without my intervention,” Chang added.
Zeng was the director of Panyu Workers Association, a Guangzhou-based organization mediating labor disputes and offering migrant workers legal assistance. He was detained last December, amid a massive crackdown on labor NGO’s in southern China. Xinhua and other state-run news outlets ran articles accusing Zeng of fraud, disturbing social order, and having extramarital affairs.
The articles follow an increasingly familiar pattern for activists, journalists, publishers, and others who are detained in China. Long before any trial, reports alleging misdeeds from adultery to fraud appear in state media, sometimes accompanied by teary, televised confessions that many believe are coerced. The situation threatens detainees’ chance at a fair trial and undermines the rule of law, legal experts say.
“Feiyang is also a good son,” his mother said in the April phone interview. “Before he was detained he came very often to take care of his father, give him massages, and keep him company in the hospital,” where his father is undergoing cancer treatment. “I only hope he can come back soon and help me take care of his dad,” she said, before breaking into tears.