Heavy prison sentences for worker activists Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang reveal Chinese government's lack of respect for fundamen

Act Now to Release Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang – One click

Press Release
9 May 2003 [12.00GMT]

China Labour Bulletin today strongly condemned the harsh prison sentences handed down by a Liaoyang court this morning on two detained Liaoyang worker activists, Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang. Yao Fuxin has been sentenced to seven years imprisonment and Xiao Yunliang to four years imprisonment on charges of “subverting state power” for their part in the peaceful demonstrations by workers from the Liaoyang Ferro-Alloy Factory in March 2002. The two men have been in detention since then and were tried on 15 January 2003 by the Liaoyang Intermediate People’s Court. According to CLB sources, at the hearing Xiao Yunliang appeared almost totally blind and was unable to recognize close family members.

China Labour Bulletin also learned that only the daughters of Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang, Yao Dan and Xiao Yu, and two workers were allowed entry into the hearing which took place at the detention centre where the two men have been held for over a year. However -- braving the presence of some 300 PSB officials who surrounded the detention centre -- some 300 workers also went to the centre to show support for Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang.

According to CLB sources, immediately after the hearing Yao Dan and Xiao Yu were both driven away in separate police cars. Xiao Yunliang’s wife, Su Anhua, tried to stop the car taking her daughter away but was beaten to the ground by police. She lost consciousness and was taken to hospital. She was later taken home by her elder daughter after the hospital asked for money for the medical treatment. Both Xiao Yu and Yao Dan have now been released.

Following the sentencing of the two men, many workers have visited the family homes of the Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang to show their continued solidarity and support.

The sentencing details have been separately confirmed by a Liaoyang court spokesman, by Xiao’s lawyer, Mo Shaoping, and by various members of the two prisoners’ families. Mo himself was unable to attend the sentencing hearing as he had been given only four days notice of the hearing and then instructed to undergo ten days’ quarantine for the atypical Pneumonia SARS

The announcement today, almost four months after the actual trial, appears clearly timed by the authorities to come in the midst of intensive media coverage of SARS in China, in the hope that the harsh sentences on Yao and Xiao would thereby attract less international attention.

China Labour Bulletin is appalled at the infliction of these lengthy and entirely unjustified sentences upon two men who are guilty of nothing but attempting peacefully to protect and promote the legitimate rights of Liaoyang workers. CLB is further appalled at the violence shown towards Su Anhua and the continued harassment of the families of both men.

Han Dongfang, CLB’s Director, today said, “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.”

The two men were charged with illegal assembly, marching and demonstrating as well as the charge of “subversion”, which was added in August 2002, five months after their initial arrest.

Following widespread criticism of the detention of the Liaoyang workers on grounds of subversion and the harsh suppression of the protests, the Chinese authorities also asserted that the two men had been guilty of “terrorism” and “sabotage” as well as “burning cars”. These arbitrary and unsubstantiated claims, made by central government and ACFTU (the government-sponsored trade union) officials in September and November 2002, did not appear in the final prosecution indictment. Indeed, local government officials in Liaoyang, apparently unaware of these allegations from Beijing officials, flatly denied at the time that the demonstrating workers had engaged in any form of violence at all. Such arbitrary smear tactics have long been the hallmark of legal proceedings in China against dissidents of all kinds, and in this case they were clearly an effort by desperate officials eager to destroy the public reputation of the two men and to dissuade the international community from any further condemnation of the authority’s repressive tactics against the Liaoyang workers.

“The sentences handed down today show just how little China has progressed on the path to rule of law – instead the “law” continues to be used as a weapon against freedom of association and expression,” said Han Dongfang “The sentencing of Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang to seven and four years’ imprisonment on trumped-up charges of ‘subversion’ shows clearly the Chinese government’s dismal lack of progress towards the protection of fundamental rights of freedom of association and expression in China.

“Faced with legitimate protests by workers around the country, the authorities are continuing to use heavy handed repression and detention -- and in particular, they are using the ‘law’ as a bludgeon to try to intimidate the most well organized workers,” he added.

The sentences on Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang come only two months after the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO), of which China is a member, called upon the Chinese authorities to release all Liaoyang workers still in detention and to drop any outstanding charges against them. By today disregarding this request from the ILO’s highest body, the Chinese government has once again shown its contempt for the fundamental ethical norms and standards insisted upon by the rest of the world labour movement.

Since their initial detention, the families of Yao and Xiao and those of other workers involved have been continuously harassed by the authorities and denied regular prison visits with their detained relatives. In addition both the daughters of Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang were themselves detained when they attempted to meet with their fathers lawyers in February. Other Liaoyang workers have also been detained for questioning, and there have been several reports of police brutality towards those questioned. Meanwhile, the original main grievances of the protesting workers have been left unaddressed and unanswered by the Liaoyang government.

The workers in Liaoyang have repeatedly called for the release of the two men and continued their campaign relating to unpaid and missing wages and other benefits as well as their call for an investigation into alleged corruption at the Liaoyang Ferro-Alloy Factory which led to its bankruptcy. In March 2003, factory’s former manager was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment on smuggling-related charges, but the court ignored demands from local workers that he also be tried and punished for the systemic acts of corruption which, they claimed, had been the real cause of the factory’s bankruptcy in 2000.

China Labour Bulletin urges the Chinese government to immediately and unconditionally release Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang, who have been detained and sentenced purely for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and association. In addition, we call upon the Chinese authorities to end the repression of workers in China who are attempting to exercise those rights and instead we ask that the government responds constructively to the workers’ call for dialogue.

“Social unrest is growing rapidly throughout China and will not end until the Chinese government addresses the fundamental roots of the unrest and answers the workers calls,” said Han Dongfang. “By detaining and sentencing peaceful workers’ leaders, the government only further perpetuates its reputation as a state which denies even the most basic rights to the citizens in whose name it claims mainly to rule.”


Xiao Yunliang, 57, and Yao Fuxin, 52, were tried on 15 January 2003 on charges including subversion and the organizing of illegal demonstrations. The announcement of their sentences today comes almost four months after their trial – contravening Chinese law on the time limit for announcement of verdict in a criminal trial.

Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang, along with Wang Zhaoming, Gu Baoshu (both released from detention on bail pending trial) and Pang Qingxiang (unconditionally released), were first detained in March and April 2002 for their involvement in mass protests at the Liaoyang Ferro-Alloy Factory in Liaoyang. The workers were protesting at the alleged corruption in the factory, which had earlier led to its bankruptcy, and against missing and unpaid wages and other benefits including pensions.

Xiao Yunliang and Yao Fuxin were eventually charged with "subversion" and "organizing illegal demonstrations", on the grounds of their alleged "links with foreign hostile elements" and membership of the banned China Democracy Party. Both men were held for over ten months prior to trial.

In addition, China Labour Bulletin is seriously concerned at the confirmation received today that Xiao Yunliang's health is deteriorating and that he is in danger of losing his eyesight. It is believed that Xiao's eye condition stems from an injury sustained when he was pushed into a police van at the time of his initial detention in March 2002. There are also unconfirmed reports that he is suffering from tuberculosis.

To join our campaign to appeal for the release of Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang – click here

For more details on Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang and interviews with the Liaoyang protestors and officials please see www.china-labour.org.hk

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