CW: This article contains discussion about sexual assault and abuse.
Another day and yet another individual arrested in China for promoting human rights. Huang Xueqin (黄雪琴) was just detained in Guangzhou seemingly just for simply standing up for freedom of speech regarding the ongoing Hong Kong protests.
Huang is a journalist and one of the premier #MeToo activists in China. She has documented the plight of women, and especially female journalists in China, specifically when if comes to issues of sexual discrimination and assault. These issues are clearly relevant around the globe, thanks to activists like Huang, people have been able to see them more clearly and begin to fight back.
In China there have been staggering reports of sexual assault and discrimination against women. This is one of the reasons that there has been a growing number of people, mostly female journalists, in China standing up to show the world what is going on and pressuring the ruling Communist Party to do something.
Huang conducted a study of 416 female journalists, of this group 84% reported that they had experienced sexual assault in the workplace. Another online study found that 70% of college students and graduates, of 7000 respondents, reported that they had been sexually harassed in China. Huang stated, “there are so few people prosecuted because there are only so few victims who report.” It seems that most are scared of losing face, though they may also fear what many female journalists fear in China, reprisal from the CCP.
While journalists certainly deal with the same issues of losing reputation or their jobs, because of their status and power to expose the problems in society they present a greater threat to the Chinese government. That is likely why many journalists and activists who speak up about sexual harassment and assault in China are treated as social pariahs, or even jailed.
Take for instance the “feminist five” who were jailed in 2015 for operating a campaign to fight against sexual harassment in China. They were all jailed for more than a month and were only released because of overwhelming push-back from the international community. In addition to this, retribution may not only affect the person speaking out but their family as well.
While anyone who speaks out against the CCP in China, and sometimes outside, is risking their job and freedom, it is not only they who may suffer. There are countless examples of activists and regular citizens making the most mild critiques of the government and then receiving threats against their families. This is probably most clearly seen with regard to the Muslim minority population in China. Even those who speak out abroad have reported that their families have been used to get them to cease their critiques, and some have even alleged that their activism has led to their family members being arrested or put into detention camps.
According to Huang’s friends, the journalist’s family was also hassled after she posted an article about the Hong Kong protests. Though details of exactly how this harassment was meted out are still unclear. It is likely similar to what many others have faced, letters, calls, and visits telling the family to get the black sheep under control or harsher actions taken would be taken.
While it seems the party does not like people talking about discrimination and assault of women in China they may have a larger problem, Hong Kong and the protests there that are stretching over 20 weeks now. According to reports, it appears that Huang was detained for her reporting and commentary regarding the Hong Kong protest, though her involvement with the #MeToo movement certainly didn’t help her.
She attended the first major demonstration in Hong Kong calling for the removal of the now infamous extradition bill. Huang reportedly joined this protest, “with the intention of giving voice to, participating, bearing witness and recording history,” according to the New York Times. This was likely enough to enrage the CCP leadership, if they were privy to the knowledge of her participation. It seems they view anything short of party propaganda as sedition; see South China Morning Post’s Twitter for recent examples of ramping up of good old CCP propaganda under the guise of objective journalism. However, Huang went further, she actually criticized the repressive regime of China.
After Huang’s visit to Hong Kong to cover the protests she wrote multiple reports. In these articles she depicts the the protests and their attendees in quite a positive light, something Xi Jinping and his government would never approve of.
She describes a sea of people of all ages – Chinese media loves to paint Hong Kong protesters as young trouble makers. She also describes how polite and friendly all the protesters were. She also speaks about how vast the crowds were, something CCP controlled media is very reluctant to do as they attempt to show these demonstrations as a fringe movement. One thing that I believe especially enraged Chinese censors was her mentions of the Chinese inability and fear to speak out against the narrative espoused by the CCP.
Huang details how she posted numerous videos and pictures of the protests in Hong Kong. She remarked that no one liked or really even commented on the posts, perhaps because they had been taken down by censors. She also details that when sending private messages regarding the demonstrations, she was told to “be careful” and not to send such messages. She laments, “ignorance and fear can indeed be cultivated.”
Translation: Perhaps, under the powerful machine of the party state, ignorance and fear can be cultivated, information and news can be shielded, and reality and truth can be distorted. But through personal experience, witnessing, you can not pretend to be ignorant, can not deny the record, cannot sit and wait. The darkness is boundless and only a trace of real and bright light can never be handed over.
Full article here
This was likely the catalyst for Huang’s detention, though it certainly doesn’t hurt that she also published articles regarding the rampant sexual abuse of women in China and the CCP’s seeming unwillingness to do anything about it. In any case Huang was arrested and it has been hard for people to obtain many more details than that.
As is often the case, people in China are generally reluctant to discuss cases like this, even if they are close friends or relatives of the individual who is detained. In this case Huang’s lawyer and friend, Wan Miaoyan, refused to comment on the case. Though some of the journalist’s other friends did. Most of them only agreed to do this on the condition of anonymity.
Huang’s friends have said that she had visited Hong Kong numerous times before her arrest. Yaqiu Wang, who is a friend of Huang and a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that the journalist was planning to attend the University of Hong Kong to study her postgraduate law degree in September. She said that Huang had her passport confiscated by the Guangzhou police before she could travel to Hong Kong.
Huang was eventually arrested on, according to friends, on charges of, “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” It is easy to see parallels between her case and many other such as Morrison Lee, though Lee is a citizen of Taiwan which is not a part of China, or Yang Hengjun. There are countless others, but the pattern remains the same. CCP officials make charges up to keep people in prisons or black sites, often without any way to contact their lawyer. This allows them to dictate the narrative, and to do what they please with those they kidnap.
While such detentions, both short and long term, have been happening for a long time, it seems the CCP is eager to crack down. The Hong Kong situation is showing how poor they are at managing anything even slightly outside of their prison state, and even that may be destabilizing. They are trying to maintain control inside their borders while extending it outside of them. Hong Kong is a big test and they are failing miserably. It is likely they will continue ramping up meritless arrests and increase their presence in Hong Kong.
It is up to the international community to step up and challenge this wanton disregard for human rights. These abhorrent actions need to be exposed by journalists around the world, like Huang Xueqin. Unless Beijing stops these actions, and they likely won’t, governments need to take serious action, such as decoupling their economy from the CCP, if they want anyone to take their loud proclamations of standing for freedom and human rights seriously. If they refuse to do so, they should be shamed, and they will ultimately have blood on their hands.