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Freed China activist continues to back strike

Zhang Zhiru refuses to cut contact with workers involved in country's biggest strike in years after two-day detention.

Last updated: 25 Apr 2014 10:44
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Dongguan factory complex workers have been on strike since April 14 over social insurance payments [Reuters]

A labour activist, who was held for more than two days by security agents, has said after his release that he is more adamant than ever to support workers involved in China's biggest strike in years, after rejecting pressure to cut any contact with them.

Zhang Zhiru's detention underscores nervousness among officials about the strike, which began on April 14 at a Yue
Yuen Industrial Holdings shoe manufacturing complex that employs some 40,000 workers in the southern industrial city of Dongguan.

A colleague of Zhang's at the Shenzhen Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service Centre, which he runs, was detained separately on Tuesday and has not been released, Zhang told the Reuters news agency by telephone on Friday.

Labour activists say the strike is one of China's biggest since market reforms started in the late 1970s.

It is already starting to have ripple effects on businesses, with German sportswear firm Adidas shifting some orders from the factory to minimise the impact of the strike.

Zhang had been working with other activists and lawyers to help workers at Yue Yuen organise and press their demands
regarding social insurance payments.

He visited the Dongguan site on Monday after an attempt last week was thwarted by security agents.

'Fun with friends'

Speaking on Friday from the southern city of Shenzhen, next to Dongguan, Zhang said he was taken to what domestic security agents called a "vacation area" after he refused in a meeting he was summoned on Tuesday to cut contact with the workers.

During his detention in the suburbs of nearby Guangzhou, his mobile phone was removed and he was confined to a room and barred him from making outside contact, he said.

Refusing to write a statement that he was "safe and on a trip for fun with friends," he was allowed a telephone call to his wife on Wednesday afternoon.

Late on Thursday morning, he was driven back to Shenzhen, where he lives, and released, Zhang said. He was again told not to make contact with the striking workers.

"They said this would be going against the work of the government," which Zhang was told was trying to facilitate an arrangement to end the strike.

"But, definitely, if the workers have a need or if they have some questions and come to us we will still give them opinions and suggestions, telling them how they can better protect their interests," Zhang said.

The Dongguan office of the Ministry of State Security did not have an immediate response to questions about the case.

Calls to the Dongguan police propaganda office went unanswered.

'Local action'

Geoff Crothall, at the Hong Kong-based watchdog China Labour Bulletin, said the detentions of Zhang and his colleague were illegal, but not a reflection of a broader crackdown amid a recent wave of labour activism, Reuters reported.

"We do not think it is politically motivated or represents a crackdown on labour rights groups in general," he wrote in emailed comments. "Rather, it is a local action in response to a specific issue,"

Separately, a spokesman for the Ministry of Labour and Social Security told reporters in Beijing on Friday that Yue
Yuen had been underpaying its social welfare contributions.

"The related department has already ordered the factory to rectify the wrongdoings before April 25," Li Zhong said.

"Our ministry will continue to keep a close watch on the progress of the issue."

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