The United States urged Chinese authorities to free women’s rights activists after they were arrested in China at the beginning of March 2015. Five female protesters were taken into custody for trying to hold a demonstration against public sexual harassment.
After they were taken by the police, hundreds of Chinese civilians were outraged, and students, workers, and fellow Chinese rights activists demanded their release by signing petitions and campaigning.
In a statement on Friday, April 10, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry advised the Chinese government that it should respect the women, and “not silence them.” He also stated that the U.S. government fully supports the activists’ cause.
Kerry is not the only American politician to have reached out to China in favor of the demonstrators. Vice President Biden tweeted Saturday, “We urge Chinese leaders to show respect for women’s rights. Rights of women and girls should never be suppressed.”
Rights of women and girls should never be suppressed. We urge Chinese leaders to show respect for women's rights and #FreeBeijing20Five. — Vice President Biden (@VP) April 11, 2015
Just a week prior, 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called for officials in Beijing to free the women from prison.
The detention of women's activists in #China must end. This is inexcusable. #FreeBeijing20Five Read this story: http://t.co/qV3VNOgmyG — Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) April 7, 2015
Freshman Sanjana Belthur said, “The United States has always supported people who are willing to fight for their rights. I don’t think that will ever change, and it definitely shouldn’t. America should always stand for the people, and not for oppressive governments.”
In response to the comments, China’s Foreign Ministry filed a formal protest against Washington. Hong Lei, spokesman for the Ministry, said at a daily news briefing, “China is a country of rule of law. China’s legal authorities will handle this case in accordance with the law.” He asked that the United States “not use any pretext to interfere in China’s internal affairs.”
In addition to the United States, the European Union and Britain also asked China to free the five women.
The activists were charged with “gathering a crowd to disturb public order,” and were unexpectedly released on bail on Monday, April 13, 2015. However, they are still considered suspects of “provoking trouble” by prosecutors, and have only been given a restricted amount of freedom.
According to one of the women’s lawyers, Liang Xiaojun, the support from abroad contributed a great deal to their bail, as well as the fact that there was no evidence of them having done anything wrong. They also have no history of committing crimes, which could also have been one of the factors contributing to the release.
Following the release, one of the women, Wang Man, said that she is in a rather good state of mind, despite the arrest, and thanked her lawyers and everybody who supported her cause.
“Women, and all people in general, should have the right to voice their concerns to the government,” said freshman Srinidhi Kovi. “If so many Chinese people feel oppressed and continue to protest, there’s obviously something wrong. The police and the government should try to understand them, not silence them.”
The Chinese police have yet to comment on the incident.
How can activists make sure their voices resonate around the world?