China Labour Action Express No. 19 (2003-03-04)

04 March 2003


Over the past week, in the run up to the first anniversary of the mass protest by over 10,000 workers in Liaoyang on 11 March 2003, the Chinese security authorities have taken a series of clumsily repressive measures against the families of the detained Liaoyang workers’ leaders, Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang. The combined effect of these police actions has been to cast serious doubt on the utility and effectiveness of seemingly positive efforts by the Liaoyang municipal authorities, just last Thursday, to hold what appears to have been their most extensive dialogue with local workers’ leaders since the outbreak of the movement in March 2002.

In the most worrying of these latest incidents, the two detainees’ daughters, Yao Dan and Xiao Yu, who had gone to Beijing on 28 February to meet with Mr. Xiao’s defence lawyer, Mo Shaoping, were seized by about twenty police officers at their hotel room in the capital at around 00.15 hours yesterday, 3 March. Informed by the officers that since the hotel where they were staying was too shabby, they would be taken to another hotel where they would be allowed to meet with their father’s lawyer without interference the following day, the two women were instead driven to a different guest house in a Beijing suburb where all their belongings were searched. They were then driven directly back to Liaoyang in a police van along with eight police officers from Liaoyang. Their fathers, Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang, were placed on trial on 15 January on charges of “subverting state power,” among the most severe ones available under the PRC Criminal Law, and the two men are currently still in police custody awaiting the outcome of the trial. No verdicts have yet been announced and it was in connection with the relevant legal issues that the two young women had sought to confer with Mo Shaoping in Beijing.

Upon their arrival back in Liaoyang at around 9.00 am yesterday, moreover, Yao Dan and Xiao Yu were escorted by police officers to a government office, separated, and held there until early evening for questioning, before finally being allowed to return home. At the end of their questioning, the two women were asked to sign statements recording the details of their responses. Since the police record included a line incorrectly stating that the purpose of their visit to Beijing had been to talk to the foreign news media, Yao Dan reportedly refused to sign until this part had been deleted. According to China Labour Bulletin sources, a senior Liaoyang PSB officer then presented the women with a renewed warning against speaking with the foreign new media. Although kept apart throughout their interrogation in Liaoyang, the two women were apparently not physically ill treated in any way during their day-long ordeal.

Other recent developments that CLB has learned about help to place in explanatory context this latest act of governmental repression against the Liaoyang detainees’ families.

-- First, since 24 February, the family residences of both Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang have been placed under around-the-clock surveillance by numerous officers from the local police station. This is the first time since the initial detention of the two men that the families have been placed under such restrictive and intrusive surveillance. The families have also been ordered by the Public Security Bureau not to take part in any demonstrations or to undertake petitioning activities at either the provincial government level or in Beijing, and they were told that they must not leave their homes without prior approval from the police officers watching them.

In an ironic twist reflecting the sharp disparity between the security authorities’ harsh and intimidatory treatment of the detainees’ families and the natural empathy of the families themselves towards these local officers, many of whom have relatives who are also deeply affected by the retrenchment policy and the financial straits of local factories, the families have been inviting the police officers posted outside their houses into their homes during the daytime. As one of the family members told CLB, “We all felt quite sorry for them: the weather is freezing cold at the moment, and it was snowing here a couple of days ago.” During the night, the police officers take turns to sleep in vans parked outside the two detained men’s homes.

-- Second, on 25 February, Yao Dan and Xiao Yu, the daughters of the two detained workers’ leaders, delivered to the Liaoyang Public Security Bureau a formal application to hold a protest demonstration on their fathers’ behalf on 11 March. When the two young women handed over the application letter they were informed by the desk police officer that the application would “not be approved” (bu pi), and he refused even to receive it. CLB then telephoned the head of the Liaoyang PSB’s Public Order Section (zhi-an ke) to seek an explanation. Section Chief Wang informed us that there was a technical error in the application, but that even so, any official decision on the application to hold a demonstration would be made by the “city leadership” and not by his office. According to CLB’s records, however, the Liaoyang workers have made three previous attempts during the past year to submit applications with the local PSB for permission to stage public demonstrations, and on all three occasions the authorities have similarly refused even to accept the application letters. Unless an application for permission to demonstrate is received, there clearly can be no possibility of any official making a decision on the application.

-- Third, on 27 February, a group of fifteen Liaoyang workers representatives – including Wang Zhaoming, Pang Qingxiang, Gu Baoshu and Wang Dawei (who had been briefly detained for questioning by the police three days earlier) – met for around three hours with Chen Qiang, the city’s deputy mayor, and other senior municipal officials to appeal again for the release of Yao and Xiao and to discuss at length several other of the workers’ chief concerns. This appears to have been the most significant meeting granted to local worker activists by the Liaoyang authorities since March 2002, and the deputy mayor adopted a generally positive and conciliatory tone during the course of the meeting. Deputy Mayor Chen was reportedly noncommittal over the workers’ demand for a prompt verdict to be rendered in the cases of Yao and Xiao and for their swift release if the charges could not be firmly substantiated. However, he agreed to convey to the higher authorities the workers’ demand that the families of Yao and Xiao should at least be allowed to visit them in prison – no family visits have been permitted since the time of the two men’s trial in mid-January – and to inform them of the authorities’ response as soon as possible. Xiao Yunliang collapsed in court at the start of his trial, and his state of health continues to be a source of much concern to his family.

The other main demands conveyed to Chen Qiang by the fifteen worker representatives concerned the continued failure of the Liaoyang Ferro-Alloy Plant’s management to fulfil its economic responsibilities to the factory’s laid-off and redundant workforce. To his credit, the deputy mayor agreed to meet three of their demands: that funds donated by the workers in recent years for purposes of expanding the factory’s workshop infrastructure (fang-ji-jin), together with both the workers’ longstanding unpaid home-heating allowances and also their un-reimbursed expenses for medical treatment, would all be paid to them in full before the end of June this year.

On the Ferro-Alloy Plant workers’ demand for prompt issuance of the two-years-worth of unemployment welfare benefits that they had still not been paid, however, deputy mayor Chen confessed that he was “powerless to resolve this issue.” In an unusually candid admission of how grave the situation for unemployed workers in China’s northeast has now become, Chen informed the workers representatives:

“There are currently several dozen bankrupt enterprises in Liaoning Province where the workers have still received no unemployment welfare benefit. If the workers from any one of these enterprises receives unemployment benefit, I assure you that the Liaoyang Ferro-Alloy Plant’s workforce will also receive theirs.”

Despite the relatively constructive tenor of the meeting on 27 February between Chen Qiang and the fifteen workers representatives, it should be noted that at Chen’s two previous (and considerably briefer) meetings with some of the same workers, the deputy mayor issued pledges to them that he was later unable to fulfil. (On 12 March 2002, five days before the arrest of Yao Fuxin, he told them that no workers would be arrested; and on 17 May, he assured them that he would strive to secure the release of Yao and several other workers who had also subsequently been detained “as soon as possible.”)

China Labour Bulletin deplores the various steps taken by the Liaoyang security authorities over the past week to intensify their intimidation of the families of Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang. “Despite the government’s flimsy concoction of charges of ‘subversion’ against Yao and Xiao, the truth is that their attempts to secure basic subsistence rights for unemployed local factory workers were both entirely lawful and also fully conducive to upholding social stability – the reverse of what the government alleged at their recent trial,” said Han Dongfang, CLB’s Director. “The Liaoyang authorities should be doubly ashamed of themselves for now trying to intimidate and muzzle the two men’s families as well. And if the detainees’ own daughters cannot even meet with their defence lawyer, where is the ‘rule of law’ in China today?” he added.

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