China Labour Action Express No. 21 (2003-03-21)

21 March 2003

1. Arrests begin in Suizhou retired textile workers’ protest

China Labour Bulletin was reliably informed today that a retired worker who wrote the protest banners and poems displayed by former employees of the Tieshu Textile Group, in Suizhou City, Hubei Province, during their collective demonstration outside the factory gate last week has now been secretly arrested.

(For further information on the Tieshu protest action, see 14 March 2003 Action Express at Hubei Workers from Tieshu Group Launch New Protests against Pension Reductions - conversations with workers and officials )

According to CLB’s source, prior to his retirement the detained activist worked as an official in the factory’s official trade union branch (ACFTU.) The detainee, whose name is not known, was reportedly seized at his home by plainclothes police officers one or two days ago at around midnight. He is believed to be still held in police custody.

This is the second detention carried out by police this week in Suizhou in connection with the Tieshu textile workers’ protest. At around 10.00 am on the morning of 19 March, a large group of plainclothes police arrived at the factory gates in an unmarked vehicle and forcibly detained another worker (identity also unknown), despite the vehement opposition of around 100 retired worker demonstrators from the factory who surged forward in an attempt to protect the man. In that incident, the detainee was released by the police about an hour later.

The poems which, along with the banners strewn across the factory gates, led to the unknown man’s secret detention included the following:

Three strange things are happening in Suizhou:
On politics, officials say whatever they like;
Tieshu factory goes bankrupt without reason;
And the bells of feudalism ring out anew.

Power has become the plaything of officials,
Though we have the truth all on our side.
When our very subsistence goes unprotected,
What fear have we of donning prison shackles?

It’s we who are the creditors here,
And we’re determined to stick up for our rights.
We don’t care how high up the debtors are:
Unpaid debts must be met!

(translated from the Chinese by CLB)

China Labour Bulletin urges the Chinese authorities to end the arbitrary detention of workers for their involvement in legitimate and peaceful demonstrations and instead to respond to the demands of the workers for an end to official corruption and non-payment of basic wages and pensions.

2.Update on Liaoyang Protests

China Labour Bulletin has learned that yesterday morning over twenty retired or laid-off workers from the Liaoyang Ferro-Alloy Factory joined together with the wives of Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang, the two workers’ leaders who have remained in custody since the start of the mass demonstrations at the factory over twelve months ago, in a petitioning visit to the Liaoyang city authorities

In an expression of solidarity, the group accompanied Guo Xiujing and Su Anhua , the wives of Yao and Xiao, to the Liaoyang municipal government offices, where they asked the Letters and Complaints Bureau to pass on the group’s demands to the city’s senior leadership (whom they were told were unavailable at the time). In a meeting lasting more than an hour, the delegation urged the government to make public the results of the trial of the two men, which took place on 15 January 2003. Although both defendants were charged with the serious crime of “subversion” no verdicts have yet been announced.

Three other worker activists – Wang Dawei, Gu Baoshu and Wang Zhaoming, all currently “released on bail awaiting trial” (qubao houshen) in connection with the Liaoyang mass protests of spring 2002 – were prevented by large numbers of police officers from leaving their houses today to take part in the workers’ collective visit to the city authorities.

The workers’ delegation also urged that Su Anhua, the wife of Xiao Yunliang, be allowed to visit her husband at the detention centre where he is being held, in the light of steadily mounting fears that Xiao is now seriously ill. The two prisoners’ families recently heard from a former detainee in the same detention centre that Xiao was suffering from a lung disease which had caused him to spit up blood, and that he had recently been placed in an isolation cell at the jail. It is feared that he may be suffering from tuberculosis, which if left untreated can be life threatening; it is not known whether Xiao has been given access to appropriate medical treatment.

According to various reports, Xiao has been in poor health since the early stages of his year-long detention. At his trial on 15 January, he had to be assisted into the courtroom by officers and then collapsed on the floor ten minutes after the trial began. Su Anhua is now extremely anxious about her husband’s medical condition and remains sceptical of the official reassurances she has been given; she told government officials yesterday that nothing less than a personal meeting with her husband would dispel her fears. This afternoon, an officer from the local police station relayed to Su a message from the Municipal Public Security Bureau: her husband had lost weight, according to the PSB official, but he was not suffering from any illness. However, the officer did not mention or respond to Su’s request to be allowed to visit her husband in jail.

China Labour Bulletin calls upon the Chinese authorities to promptly allow the wives of both the detained men to visit their husbands in person and to ensure that Xiao Yunliang is given immediate medical treatment in accordance with Chinese prison regulations and internationally agreed standards . Han Dongfang, China Labour Bulletin’s Director, today commented: “The denial of family visits to the prisoners is both illegal and immoral. The Chinese authorities must not be allowed to compound the arbitrary arrest and trial of Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang with what amounts to prolonged incommunicado detention – especially when there are serious concerns about Xiao’s state of health.”

According to CLB sources, the workers’ delegation yesterday asked the officials of the Liaoyang Letters and Visits Office to respond to their two requests within one week. When China Labour Bulletin contacted the same office by phone seeking its initial reaction to the workers’ petition, a member of staff replied: “Please don’t ask me these kinds of questions. This matter is a major headache for us and I cannot comment on it.”

Later yesterday, at 2.00 pm, Yao Dan and Xiao Yu, the daughters of Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang, went to the Liaoyang Intermediate People’s Court to speak to the judge, Nian Tiepeng, who had presided over their fathers’ trial. Judge Nian promised the two women that he would visit Xiao Yunliang in person on 21 March and would then inform Xiao’s family directly about his medical condition.

Han Dongfang reiterated China Labour Bulletin’s call for the Chinese authorities to immediately release the two men and drop all charges of subversion against them: “Instead of using flimsy charges of subversion against such people, the authorities should listen to the voices of the millions of workers in China and not simply attempt to stifle their legitimate expressions of concerns on fundamental issues like corruption and wage arrears.” He added: “Unless the Chinese government takes action to remedy the causes of worker unrest there will be no end to the mounting tide of discontent.”
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