China Labour Bulletin
December 11, 2002
The following three labour activists are just a fraction of those who are incarcerated for exercising their constitutional rights in defending the rights and interests of the workers.
(In chronological order; compiled on October 23, 2002)
Labour activist Yue Tianxiang, from the city of Tianshui in Gansu Province, was sentenced to 10-year imprisonment by the Tianshui People's Intermediate Court on the charge of "subverting state power" on July 5, 1999.
Yue Tianxiang was a driver at the state-owned Tianshui City Transport Company. In 1995, together with other workers, he was laid off despite being owed three months back pay. When the company refused to negotiate a settlement regarding wage arrears and a legally entitled living allowance, Yue and his fellow worker, Guo Xinmin, decided to take the case to the Tianshui Labour Disputes Arbitration Committee (LDAC). The LDAC's decision stipulated that the company should find new positions for the two as soon as possible, but the manager refused to abide by the decision.
After realising that many fellow workers faced the same treatment, Yue and Guo (who got a two-year prison term in the same case, and has been released) set up a journal called China Workers Monitor and used the inaugural issue to uncover corruption at their former company.
Yue and Guo also wrote an open letter to President Jiang Zemin asking for official intervention from Beijing. After receiving no answer, they sent the same letter to international news agencies hoping to bring more pressure to bear on the authorities in Tianshui. Within a week of releasing the letter, the two had been picked up by the police on January 11, 1999, and charged with subversion.
Yue is currently held at Gansu Provincial No.2 Prison in Tianshui.
On July 18, 2000, labour rights lawyer Xu Jian in Inner Mongolia was sentenced to four years' imprisonment for "incitement to subvert state power". Xu Jian's "crime" refers to his attempts at independent workers' organising which, to the Chinese government, is a plot to overthrow the socialist system and state power. Xu Jian is currently held in Area Two of Chifeng Prison, Inner Mongolia.
Xu Jian is a registered legal practitioner in Baotou City of Inner Mongolia. Sympathetic to workers' problems, Xu Jian provided legal counselling to the workers, and assisted in filing labour dispute cases for arbitration, as well as litigation. Many of his clients were workers from the state-owned Neimenggu No.2 Machinery Main and Baotou Steel Company, who had not been paid for almost six months,
Xu believed that the ultimate defence of workers' rights lay in the collective strength of the workers themselves. Instead of simply providing legal assistance, Xu constantly reminded the workers of their right to elect shop-level union officials, and the jurisdiction of the workers' congress in state enterprises, which supposedly has a say in making major decisions regarding the enterprise's operation.
To reach more workers, Xu Jian also took up activities such as giving out information leaflets. Xu Jian distributed several leaflets on the legal rights of workers facing factory closure and layoffs, and China's Labour Law. One of the leaflets, entitled "Workers Can Say No" listed some of the rights laid down in the Labour Law, including the stipulations on remuneration, working hours and overtime pay.
Xu was arrested on December 31, 1999 and charged with "incitement to subvert state power". Despite the strictly legal basis of Xu's work, the court rejected his defence. The arrest and sentencing of Xu Jian is plainly a violation of China's own laws and regulations, and a violation of the basic workers' right to organise.
Xu Jian contracted hepatitis soon after he was incarcerated. His condition has deteriorated to a critical level. Xu has reportedly developed hypertension by May 2002 while his hepatitis was stabilised. But his request for medical treatment continues to be rejected.
On 27 December 1998, independent trade union activist in Hunan, Zhang Shanguang, was sentenced to ten years imprisonment in Hunan's No.1 Prison in Yuanjiang city. He was accused of endangering national security after talking with the foreign media about widespread labour and peasant unrest in his home county of Shupu.
Previously, in March 1998, Zhang attempted to set up the Shupu County Association for the Rights of Laid-off Workers to protect the interests of unemployed workers and farmers. The right is granted by the Constitution, which clearly states that all Chinese citizens enjoy the freedom of association, and yet the application was rejected.
Formerly a secondary school teacher, Zhang was jailed for seven years in 1989 for putting up a poster castigating the government for the massacre in Beijing. During his imprisonment, he contracted tuberculosis and as a result of being denied adequate treatment, his illness was still not under control when he was re-arrested on July 21, 1998. Zhang's wife, Hou Xuezhu, said that the prison authorities had only taken Zhang for medical treatment when Zhang's tuberculosis became severe, but the medical fees and food costs during Zhang's detention were passed onto her. Zhang is dangerously ill with tuberculosis and heart disease, and reportedly being ill treated and beaten by prison guards.
Prisoners of Hunan's No.1 Prison are constantly forced to work long hours, being beaten, underfed, and denied medical treatment. Zhang, therefore, organised a petition in March 2001 to end torture and long working hours at the jail. He was repeatedly kicked and punched by prison guards after the first petition was found and confiscated. Other prisoners who signed the petition were also beaten.