Chinese #MeToo activist jailed for five years for subversion

Journalist Sophia Huang Xueqin was detained in 2021 with labour activist Wang Jianbing who was jailed three years and six months.

Sophia Huang Xueqin
Sophia Huang Xueqin was sentenced at the Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court [Screen grab/YouTube]

Prominent #MeToo activist and journalist Sophia Huang Xueqin has been jailed for five years by a court in southern China after being found guilty of “inciting subversion of state power”.

Labour activist Wang Jianbing, who stood trial with Huang, was sentenced to three years and six months in prison after being found guilty of the same charge at the Guangzhou Intermediate Court on Friday, according to a statement from the Free Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing group.

It added that 35-year-old Huang told the court she would appeal. It was not clear whether Wang, 40, planned to do the same.

“[The sentence] was longer than we expected,” a spokesperson for the group told the Reuters news agency, asking to remain anonymous for safety reasons. “I don’t think it should have been this severe, and it is completely unnecessary. So we support Huang Xueqin’s intention to appeal.”

In the run-up to their arrest in September 2021, Huang was involved in several #MeToo campaigns in China that provided support to survivors of sexual assault and harassment, while Wang was also a prominent #MeToo supporter and provided legal support for people with disabilities and workers with occupational diseases.

Huang and Wang went on trial last year in a closed court over activities including weekly gatherings with fellow activists, and their involvement in online human rights education.

Dozens of their friends were summoned by police and had their homes searched and electronic devices confiscated, according to Amnesty.

The pair denied any wrongdoing, their supporters said.

“Tomorrow marks exactly one thousand days since Sophia Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing were arrested,” said Amnesty’s China Director Sarah Brooks. “These convictions will prolong their deeply unjust detention and have a further chilling effect on human rights and social advocacy in a country where activists face increasing state crackdowns.”

There was a heavy security presence around Guangzhou People’s Intermediate Court on Friday morning, with police questioning bystanders, according to Reuters.

The charge “inciting subversion of state power” is frequently used by the Chinese government against critics.

It carries a maximum prison term of five years but can be longer if the suspect is considered a ringleader or to have committed serious crimes.

“These malicious and totally groundless convictions show just how terrified the Chinese government is of the emerging wave of activists who dare to speak out to protect the rights of others,” Brooks said, calling for Huang and Wang’s immediate release.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined in 2022 that Wang was being arbitrarily detained and has repeatedly called on China to repeal the crime of “inciting subversion” or bring it into line with international standards.

Huang, who reported on the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong five years ago, was also detained by Chinese police for three months in late 2019 when she was accused of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies