Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have told a feminist activist to leave after she launched a poster campaign against sexual harassment on public transport.
Activist Zhang Leilei, who currently lives in Guangdong’s provincial capital Guangzhou, had planned to distribute wearable placards bearing an anti-sexual harassment slogan and depicting cartoon animals aboard public transportation.
The plan was for activists to wear them in public throughout the month of May to draw attention to unwanted touching and sexual attention faced daily by women on China’s buses, trains, and subway trains.
But she received a visit from local police on May 17, she told RFA on Friday.
“They came to my place looking for me on the 17th, and told me to stop my current activities,” Zhang said. “They told me I was banned from doing anything in Guangzhou for the next six months, and then they told me to go and live somewhere else.”
Zhang said the authorities are likely concerned about Guangzhou’s hosting of the forthcoming Fortune Global Forum, which runs from Dec. 6-8, 2017.
“They told me my campaign was too high profile,” she said. “I had had a number of campaigns planned, but I won’t be able to carry them out now … I am pretty sad about that.”
But she said her activities up until now had likely influenced “large numbers of people,” and inspired them to activism on their own account.
“I have seen that a lot of people really care about the issue of sexual harassment … They are willing to come out onto the streets, carry out activities in other places,” she said. “More and more people are becoming aware of gender issues.”
“But the environment is a somewhat hostile one for feminist issues,” she said.
Zhang has also posted online about the ban on her activities.
“They asked me if I had thought about the ‘feminist five’ who were detained because they campaigned against sexual harassment?” the post said. “How is what you’re doing any different from what they did?”
The “feminist five” are a group of female Chinese activists who were detained for five weeks on public order charges for planning an anti-sexual harassment campaign for International Women’s Day in 2015.
“Maybe I’m dumb, but I have thought about this a lot, and I still don’t get it,” she said. “I still don’t get how me walking around with a placard campaigning against sexual harassment on public transportation adds up to something worthy of arrest,” the post said.
“Why is it that you say [the feminist five] broke the law, and yet they weren’t even formally arrested? Why do you prevent us from even using our own bodies as an advertising platform?” it said.
‘Entirely reasonable activities’
Xiong Jing, social media editor of the Feminist Voices website, which was targeted by state censors earlier this year, said Zhang had already raised some 40,000 yuan (U.S. $5,800) from donations to fund an ad campaign, but had been unable to place the posters.
So she decided to call on people to wear the posters instead.
“These are entirely reasonable activities, and yet they are being treated as sensitive persons and told to leave,” Xiong said.
“We thought it was pretty unusual when we heard about this, because this anti-sexual harassment campaign is pretty straightforward,” Xiong said. “The attitude taken by the Guangzhou police is pretty chilling.”
“And it’s not just Zhang Leilei who’s being kicked out of the city,” she said. “We know of a few other people to whom this is happening, because the Guangzhou police have a list of people who they want to get rid of before the Fortune Global Forum.”
Guangzhou activists told RFA on Thursday that they were forced to abandon plans to gather for dinner on Tuesday night after the state security police intervened.
Rights activist Wang Aizhong said around 10 people showed up, but were forced to hold the event under the watchful eye of their state security minders.
“Some people got a phone call at about 5.30 p.m. warning them not to go, because they would be detaining people,” Wang said. “They didn’t give specific reasons, but maybe they thought there were too many of us, or that we were classed as sensitive.”
Wang said another factor may be the approach of the 28th anniversary of the military crackdown on the student-led pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, which falls on June 4.
Wang said he was questioned for several hours by the state security police as soon as the meal was over, but vowed to continue with his activism in spite of continual official harassment.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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