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Profiles of Five Imprisoned Labour Activists in China
Released All Imprisoned Labour Activists in China!
The following five labour activists are just a fraction of those who are incarcerated for exercising their constitutional rights in defending the rights and interests of the workers.
(in chronological order; compiled on October 23, 2002)
Yao Fuxin has led the Liaoyang Ferroalloy Factory workers in a four-year struggle to secure their legal rights. On the morning of March 17, 2002, he was picked up by plainclothes policemen less than a kilometre from his home. Pang Qingxiang, Xiao Yunliang and Wang Zhaoming, workers' representatives at the Ferroalloy Factory, were violently arrested by the armed police on March 20, 2002 after a demonstration demanding the release of Yao.
Yao and others were initially detained at Tieling City Detention Centre on charges of "illegal assembly, marches and protests". Yao is currently held at a detention centre for ill offenders in Shenyang City. The other three are held separately in other detention centres in the province.
Yao, 54, was formerly a worker at Liaoyang Steel Rolling Mill. His wife, Guo Xiujing, was a former Ferroalloy worker who retired in 1996. Ever since the factory management decided to file for bankruptcy in 1998, Yao Fuxin has led the Ferroalloy workers in a fight against the decision.
In 2001, Yao Fuxin played a leading role in organising an independent inquiry by Ferroalloy Factory workers into the company accounts. However, the factory management, acting in collusion with the local government, declared the enterprise bankrupt, rendering more than 4,000 workers unemployed. Employees were left not only without fair compensation, but also owed a full year's wages and pensions. Yao Fuxin also led them in petitions for the past year. The petitions have been presented to both the Liaoyang City government, the Liaoning provincial government and finally to the central government in Beijing. Their petitions were consistently ignored. On March 11 and 12 this year, Yao led 2,000 workers from the Ferroalloy Factory along with a further 15,000 workers from five other factories in Liaoyang in a demonstration in front of government offices. They were calling for the government to allow them a basic livelihood.
Yao is reportedly in poor health condition with heart problems and symptoms of stroke. On March 22, Liaoyang public security officials informed Yao's wife, Guo Xiujing, that Yao developed heart problems. On April 11, when Guo was finally allowed to visit Yao, she found the right side of his body completely numb and there was no strength in his right leg, making walking very difficult. His right hand was trembling and he was suffering from headaches and numbness in his head. Yao's family found him in similar health conditions in their recent visit on October 9 even though he has been treated and is still on medication.
By now, Yao has been detained for the maximum length of six and a half months, the legal limit of detention for investigation. But to date, Yao's lawyer is still denied access to him on the grounds that his case involves "state secrets".
Veteran Hunan-based labour activist Li Wangyang was secretly tried by the People's Intermediate Court of Shaoyang, Hunan Province, on September 5, 2001, and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment on September 20, 2001. He was charged with "incitement to subvert state power".
Li previously received a 13-year prison sentence in 1989 on charges of counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement for organising the Shaoyang Workers' Autonomous Federation during the 1989 Democracy Movement. Li's time in prison was particularly severe. Beaten, underfed and tortured, he emerged from prison on June 8, 2000 with lung, heart, back and respiratory illnesses; he had also contracted a severe eye illness. Li was determined that the Chinese government should be held responsible for the health problems he contracted in prison and cover his medical costs, which he is otherwise unable to afford. In February 2001, Li staged a hunger strike that lasted for 22 days.
On June 5, 2001, Li was re-arrested - while lying in his hospital bed - after his February campaign for compensation. Li Wangyang's sister, Li Wangling was sentenced to three years re-education through labour on June 7, 2001 for helping him publicise his demands.
On July 18, 2000, labour rights lawyer Xu Jian in Inner Mongolia was sentenced to four years' imprisonment for "incitement to subvert state power". Xu Jian's "crime" refers to his attempts at independent workers' organising which, to the Chinese government, is a plot to overthrow the socialist system and state power. Xu Jian is currently held in Area Two of Chifeng Prison, Inner Mongolia.
Xu Jian is a registered legal practitioner in Baotou City of Inner Mongolia. Sympathetic to workers' problems, Xu Jian provided legal counselling to the workers, and assisted in filing labour dispute cases for arbitration, as well as litigation. Many of his clients were workers from the state-owned Neimenggu No.2 Machinery Main and Baotou Steel Company, who had not been paid for almost six months,
Xu believed that the ultimate defence of workers' rights lay in the collective strength of the workers themselves. Instead of simply providing legal assistance, Xu constantly reminded the workers of their right to elect shop-level union officials, and the jurisdiction of the workers' congress in state enterprises, which supposedly has a say in making major decisions regarding the enterprise's operation.
To reach more workers, Xu Jian also took up activities such as giving out information leaflets. Xu Jian distributed several leaflets on the legal rights of workers facing factory closure and layoffs, and China's Labour Law. One of the leaflets, entitled "Workers Can Say No" listed some of the rights laid down in the Labour Law, including the stipulations on remuneration, working hours and overtime pay.
Xu was arrested on December 31, 1999 and charged with "incitement to subvert state power". Despite the strictly legal basis of Xu's work, the court rejected his defence. The arrest and sentencing of Xu Jian is plainly a violation of China's own laws and regulations, and a violation of the basic workers' right to organise.
Xu Jian contracted hepatitis soon after he was incarcerated. His condition has deteriorated to a critical level. Xu has reportedly developed hypertension by May 2002 while his hepatitis was stabilised. But his request for medical treatment continues to be rejected.
Labour activist Yue Tianxiang, from the city of Tianshui in Gansu Province, was sentenced to 10-year imprisonment by the Tianshui People's Intermediate Court on the charge of "subverting state power" on July 5, 1999.
Yue Tianxiang was a driver at the state-owned Tianshui City Transport Company. In 1995, together with other workers, he was laid off despite being owed three months' back pay. When the company refused to negotiate a settlement regarding wage arrears and a legally-entitled living allowance, Yue and his fellow worker, Guo Xinmin, decided to take the case to the Tianshui Labour Disputes Arbitration Committee (LDAC). The LDAC's decision stipulated that the company should find new positions for the two as soon as possible, but the manager refused to abide by the decision.
After realising that many fellow workers faced the same treatment, Yue and Guo (who got a two-year prison term in the same case, and has been released) set up a journal called China Workers Monitor and used the inaugural issue to uncover corruption at their former company.
Yue and Guo also wrote an open letter to President Jiang Zemin asking for official intervention from Beijing. After receiving no answer, they sent the same letter to international news agencies hoping to bring more pressure to bear on the authorities in Tianshui. Within a week of releasing the letter, the two had been picked up by the police on January 11, 1999, and charged with subversion.
Yue is currently held at Gansu Provincial No.2 Prison in Tianshui.
On 27 December 1998, independent trade union activist in Hunan, Zhang Shanguang, was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment in Hunan's No.1 Prison in Yuanjiang city. He was accused of endangering national security after talking with the foreign media about widespread labour and peasant unrest in his home county of Shupu.
Previously, in March 1998, Zhang attempted to set up the Shupu County Association for the Rights of Laid-off Workers to protect the interests of unemployed workers and farmers. The right is granted by the Constitution, which clearly states that all Chinese citizens enjoy the freedom of association, and yet the application was rejected.
Formerly a secondary school teacher, Zhang was jailed for seven years in 1989 for putting up a poster castigating the government for the massacre in Beijing. During his imprisonment, he contracted tuberculosis and as a result of being denied adequate treatment, his illness was still not under control when he was re-arrested on July 21, 1998. Zhang's wife, Hou Xuezhu, said that the prison authorities had only taken Zhang for medical treatment when Zhang's tuberculosis became severe, but the medical fees and food costs during Zhang's detention were passed onto her. Zhang is dangerously ill with tuberculosis and heart disease, and reportedly being ill-treated and beaten by prison guards.
Prisoners of Hunan's No.1 Prison are constantly forced to work long hours, being beaten, underfed, and denied medical treatment. Zhang, therefore, organised a petition in March 2001 to end torture and long working hours at the jail. He was repeatedly kicked and punched by prison guards after the first petition was found and confiscated. Other prisoners who signed the petition were also beaten.