Feminist journalist Sophia Huang and fellow activist Wang Jianbing are incommunicado, believed detained, ahead of Huang’s planned departure to study overseas, the Chinese rights group Weiquanwang reported on Tuesday.
Huang had planned to leave China via Hong Kong on Sept. 20 for the U.K., where she planned to take a master’s degree in development with a prestigious Chevening Scholarship, the Weiquanwang report said.
Wang, who is a labor and healthcare rights activist, had planned to see her off on her journey, it said.
“According to people familiar with the matter, Wang Jianbing may have been detained under investigation for incitement to subvert state power, mainly due to the daily gatherings of friends at his home,” Weiquanwang said, adding that both activists had been incommunicado since Sept. 19.
Repeated calls and messages to Huang’s cell phone went unanswered on Tuesday.
Sources told RFA the pair had likely been detained by police in their home district of Haizhu.
An officer who answered the phone at the Haizhu district police department in Guangzhou declined to confirm the report.
“Who? I’ve never heard of those people,” the officer said. “If you believe they are being dealt with, then the relatives need to wait for notification.”
“The case officers will only contact [the family].”
Veteran political journalist Gao Yu said Huang’s detention may be short-lived, and only intended to prevent her from leaving for the U.K.
“The kind of persecution that his happening now is worse than at any other time … even when they were going after the ‘rightists’ they didn’t just arrest people on a whim,” she said.
“It’s unbelievable right now … they regard these young journalists and non-government organizations as the enemy,” she said. “The methods they are using are persecutory and despicable, and without any basis in law.”
U.S.-based legal scholar Teng Biao said “disappearances” are increasingly being used by the CCP to suppress any form of dissent or rights activism.
“They keep lowering the threshold for the kinds of people they will persecute,” Teng said. “There is now no longer room for activities that may have been tolerated in the past.”
Survey of harassment, assaults
Before being targeted by the authorities in 2019, Huang had been an outspoken member of the country’s #MeToo movement, and had carried out a survey of sexual harassment and assault cases among Chinese women working in journalism.
Huang was present at a million-strong protest in Hong Kong on June 9, 2019 against plans to allow extradition to mainland China, and was detained for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” in October 2019, before being released on bail in January 2020, a status that often involves ongoing surveillance and restrictions on a person’s activities.
Her travel documents were also confiscated after her return, preventing her from beginning a law degree in Hong Kong the fall of 2019.
Huang had previously assisted in the investigation and reporting of a number of high-profile sexual harassment allegations against professors at Peking University, Wuhan University of Technology, Henan University and Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou.
Wang started to work in rural development after graduating in 2005, before joining the Guangzhou Gongmin NGO in 2014 and director and coordinator for youth work.
In 2018, he started advocacy and legal support work on behalf of workers with occupational diseases, and was a vocal supporter of China’s #MeToo movement.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.