China: crackdown on Guangdong labor activists
At least 20 Guangdong-based labor advocates have been detained over the past week in police sweeps. Eight are believed to remain in detention, either formally or under some kind of house arrest. Those who remain in custody include Zeng Feiyang, director of the Panyu Migrant Workers' Center in the provincial capital Guangzhou; He Xiaobo, who runs the Nanfeiyan Social Worker Center, a support group for injured workers in Foshan; and Zhu Xiaomei, a woman from the same organization who is the mother of a one-year-old baby. Also being held are Deng Xiaoming, from the Haige Workers' Services Center, and Peng Jiayong, who runs the Panyu Laborer Mutual Aid Group. Chen Huihai, also a leader of the Haige group, is believed to be under house arrest.
Some of the detainees are apparently being denied access to counsel. Zeng Feiyang was formally detained on Dec. 4 on suspicion of "gathering a crowd to disturb social order." Zeng's lawyer, Cheng Zhunqiang, attempted to visit his client at the Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Center but was barred by the police who said the Panyu District Public Security Bureau had ordered them to refuse the visit.
William Nee, Hong Kong-based representative of Amnesty International, said an "unprecedented" and "coordinated attack" on Guangdong's labor movement is underway. "This is the only time that I can remember in recent years in which many labor activists and organizations—without any kind of incident pre-empting it—have all of a sudden been taken in one fell swoop," he told The Guardian.
The Guardian also quoted an open letter issued by activists urging the Communist Party's senior leadership to end the "terrible crackdown" and release the detainees. "In Guangdong there have been cases where staff from workers’ rights groups were slashed, beaten, put under administrative or criminal detention or where these organisations were forced to move, were harassed or had their licences cancelled," the letter read. "But this is the first time in Guangdong or indeed the whole country that there has been such a severe crackdown on a such scale from the government."
In recent years, the frequent wildcat strikes in Guangdong have prompted a large number of workers to join the army of "rights defenders." Labor NGOs have emerged to assist strikers and provide legal advice in tripartite negotiations between workers, employers and governments. (China Labour Bulletin, Dec. 11; China Change, Dec. 10; The Guardian, Labor Notes, Dec. 9; China Labour Bulletin, Dec. 5; HKCTU, Dec. 4)