(New York, May 10, 2003)
-- China's conviction of two labor activists for organizing peaceful protests shows how little China's legal system has changed in political cases, Human Rights Watch said today. The activists, Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang, were convicted without legal representation.
Human Rights Watch called on China to drop all charges and to immediately release the two men. During the hearing, police reportedly roughed up the labor activists' family members. Human Rights Watch said there should be a full investigation into this incident.
"China chose to celebrate May Day this year by trampling on the rights of workers and intimidating their families. These convictions give the lie to Beijing's smooth rhetoric about improving labor rights."
Executive Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch
"China chose to celebrate May Day this year by trampling on the rights of workers and intimidating their families," said Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. "These convictions give the lie to Beijing's smooth rhetoric about improving labor rights."
Yao and Xiao received seven and four-year sentences respectively. They had been detained in March 2002 after organizing tens of thousands of laid-off workers to peacefully protest in Liaoning province. Their lawyer, Beijing-based Mo Shaoping, was not present at the hearing. In order to prevent the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Liaoning province requires that Beijing visitors observe a ten-day isolation period. Mo was not notified of the hearing date in time to fulfill the requirement. He plans to appeal.
On the day of the trial, hundreds of Liaoning workers reportedly gathered to protest at the court building, where they were met by a strong show of police force. Xiao Yunliang's daughter, Xiao Yu, reported that during the proceedings she was pushed into a car by five or six police officers outside of the court building, and that a police officer struck her mother when she objected to the treatment of her daughter.
Yao and Xiao, who were charged with "attempting to overthrow state political power," were given no opportunity to speak at the hearing or otherwise present a defense. Court officials allowed only one member from each of the men's families to witness the proceedings.
"The International Labour Organisation, the United States, and other international actors interested in labor rights in China should press Beijing for the immediate release of Yao and Xiao," said Adams. "The apparent abuse and intimidation of family members should be promptly investigated."
A copy of the activists' December 2002 indictment, obtained by Human Rights Watch, indicated the subversion charges were based on interviews the men gave to international media, contacts they had with Hong Kong-based human rights groups, and their alleged attendance at meetings of the China Democracy Party in 1998-99. The indictment can be read at http://www.hrw.org/press/2003/02/chinaindictment.htm.
Previous Human Rights Watch statements on the case can be found at http://www.hrw.org/asia/china.php (English) and http://www.hrw.org/chinese/ (Mandarin).