ICFTU Complaint to ILO - Case No 2189 updates on events in North East China

Mr. Juan Somavia


International Labour Office

Route des Morillons

CH – 1211 Geneva


By fax

TUR/JK 02 June 2002

Dear Mr Somavia,

Freedom of Association: Case No 2189 (People’s Republic of China)

Further to the ICFTU complaint against the PRC Government dated 27th march 2002, I am writing with additional information concerning developments in several of the cases mentioned therein, and about a new case in Sichuan, with a request that you forward these elements to the Committee on Freedom of Association.

Developments in Liaoyang (Liaoning Province)

The Committee will recall that, in its earlier communication on this subject, dated 27th March 2002, the ICFTU had described how the authorities had repressed independent workers’ protest in the north-eastern city of Liaoyang, (Liaoning Province). In particular, four workers' representatives had been arrested in Liaoyang in March 2002. The ICFTU has since learned that they have been charged with organising "illegal demonstrations" – a charge that carries a prison sentence of five years. The following workers' representatives will face trial for organising "illegal demonstrations":

  • Yao Fuxin (male, 54 years old) – arrested March 17

  • Pang Qingxiang (male, 58 years old) – arrested March 20

  • Xiao Yunliang (male, 57 years-old) – arrested March 20

  • Wang Zhaoming (male, 39 years old) – arrested March 20

The first of those arrested, Yao Fuxin, a laid-off steel worker, is in a very serious condition after suffering what authorities claim to be a "heart attack." The Committee will recall that the ICFTU has expressed alarm about his condition. We have since learned that on 11 April, Yao Fuxin’s wife, Guo Xiujing, was allowed to see her hushand, held in Tieling Jail (120km from Liaoyang), for the first time since he was picked up by police. Guo said her husband’s right side was numb, his right hand shook, and his right leg was weak. It is believed that he has suffered a stroke caused by the onset of heart disease, itself following his brutal treatment at the hands of the police. (Yao Fuxin had no previous record of heart or any other disease). Although he had been briefly hospitalized in March, he was returned to the Tieling detention centre where his condition has since deteriorated. In spite of this, Yao Fuxin is being denied access to medical treatment, including a return to hospital or being released on medical parole.

Another workers' representative, Gu Baoshu, also suffered injuries as a result of his detention. On April 15, Gu led negotiations calling for the release of those arrested. Gu himself was detained the next morning and released later that night. However, while in police custody he was severely beaten, suffering serious injuries to his face and eyes.

To the best of our knowledge, the chronology of events since the latest information contained in the ICFTU complaint of March 2002 is as follows in the sections below. As for the events between the start of the Liaoyang protests and the submission of that complaint, the Committee will recall that these were detailed in the ICFTU letters to Mr Zhang Zemin, the President of the People’s Republic of 14 and 27 March, which form an integral part of the ICFTU complaint of 27th March. However, much more information has since come to light about the events leading to the March 2002 protests. In fact, problems affecting the Ferroy Alloy Factory and other enterprises in and around Liaoyang had already started several years earlier. This information, as well as details of the March 2002 which were not available earlier, are exposed in chronological order in Appendix 1 to the present ICFTU communication.

On 28th and 29th March, Liaoyang workers and detainees’ relatives gathered in front of the municipal government building and requested the release of the four arrested workers’ representatives or, at least, to be given clear information about their situation. On 30th March, the Public Security Bureau (PSB) formally charged the four arrested workers of “illegally organising demonstrations”.

On 11th April, Yao Fuxin’s wife, Guo Xiujing, was allowed to see her hushand in Tieling Jail, as explained before. Also on or around that date, relatives of another workers’ representative, Xiao Yunliang, organised for a lawyer to take up his defense. However, police had turned down a request by Xiao’s lawyer to visit him, saying Xiao had refused a lawyer.

On 15th April, Liaoyang workers went to the city government Complaints Office to seek the release of the four detainees. In order to avoid further arrests, the workers decided against further street protests, but instead sent several representatives, including Gu Baoshu (who was picked up the next day, see below), to negotiate with the government. Nevertheless, the workers' caution and attempt to enter into negotiations failed with Gu's arrest.

On 16th April, around 8:40 in the morning, two plain-clothes police knocked on Gu Baoshu’s door. Then, they opened the door with a key, fastened Gu and beat him up. After factory workers learned about his, scores of them rushed to the building where he lived and tussled with the police who arrested him. The police stationed outside pushed the blockading workers aside and took Gu away in a police car.
The workers submitted on the spot an application for a demonstration to the Chief Secretary of the municipal government, who came to the factory to pacify the workers. However, the Chief Secretary immediately declared that the application should bear the name of the organisers; otherwise it would be invalid. The workers refused to enter any names on the application; moreover they stated that, were Gu Baoshu not released and were the permission to demonstrate not approved, they would collectively visit Beijing to petition or they would block the railway.

Under such pressure from the workers, Gu Baoshu was released on the same night. He had been cruelly beaten by the officers during detention. Gu demanded that the PSB pay his medical costs and investigate who was responsible for the beating. The authorities replied with further threats of detention.

On 5th May, around midnight, workers secretly posted notices on walls of the labour housing area, calling on worker to collectively petition the authorities on 7th and 8th May to release the detainees. The following morning, the notices were cleared by police. For two consecutive days thereafter, on 7th and 8t May, 400 to 500 workers, who had heard about the notices posted on the walls earlier, gathered in front of the municipal government building again and requested the release of all arrested workers’ representatives.

Also, Guo Xiujing, and other three workers’ representatives submitted an application for demonstration, signed with 20 workers’ names. The PSB rejected the application without giving any reason.

On 9th May, at 9:00 in the morning, hundreds of workers once again gathered in front of the municipal government building and held up a banner saying “Strongly Demand the government release the arrested workers’ representatives”. Officials charged out from the government building and tried to seize the banner, but failed.

On 10th May, workers demanded a dialogue with the Mayor. Two officials of the municipal government’s Complaints Bureau appeared and said that, if the workers appointed representatives, they would arrange for them to meet the Mayor. But the workers refused, because they were worried that the municipal government once again only wanted to pinpoint the workers’ leaders to arrest them. Finally the Head of the Complaint Bureau came out and accepted a petition letter from the workers. Furthermore he promised to forward it to the Mayor at once. The petition letter sent to the Mayor contained five demands:

  • that the government release the arrested workers’ representatives; failing that, that court action begin as soon as possible, as the workers representatives must not be kept locked up indefinitely;

  • that the city government make public the report on forced bankruptcies and respond to the workers’ reasonable demands within a time limit;

  • an increase in the clampdown on corrupt officials and giving the Ferrous-Alloy Factory workers a clear statement about their claims in the near future;

  • that the government lawfully punish those police officers who abused their legal positions and assaulted Gu Baoshu in a most cold-blooded way;

  • that, for humanitarian reasons, the government should allow the Ferrous-Alloy Factory workers in separate groups and occasions to visit their jailed representatives in the Tieling (Iron Peak) detention centre.

The petition letter also expressed that the Ferrous-Alloy Factory workers would petition Beijing with collective demonstrations unless the city government speedily satisfy these demands.

On 15th May, several hundred workers from the Ferroalloy Factory again assembled in front of government buildings to raise banners and peacefully petition the government for the release of detainees. At just after 10 am, more than ten plain-clothes police officers charged out of the government building's courtyard, attacked the workers with punches and kicks and seized their banners. Clashes followed as the workers protected the banners.

During the clashes, the son of a retired Ferroalloy worker, whose mother had beaten during the police assault, demanded to know why they had attacked his mother. As a result, he was severely beaten by the police and then taken away. In the end, the City Complaints Office arranged for the release of the woman's son with the police.

We have also been informed that, in a separate incident, Wang Dawei, another key person in the Ferrous-Alloy Factory workers’ struggle, went to Beijing to file complaints at numerous central-government departments but was completely ignored. After he called Gou Xiujing’s family once, early in his journey, to tell them about his progress with the complaints, he disappeared. He remains unaccounted for and the ICFTU fears that he has also been arrested.

Repression in Daqing (Heilongjiang Province)

It is recalled that an estimated 50,000 oil field workers held protests in Daqing City in Heilongjiang Province in March 2002. This led the deployment of 800 para-military police in Daqing City to disperse protesting workers and a campaign of intimidation in which dozens of workers were detained for periods of up to two weeks and released on the condition that they would no longer participate in the demonstrations.

According to our information, several representatives of the independently formed PAB Retrenched Workers' Provisional Union Committee in Daqing City were detained on March 11th during negotiations with officials. These independent unionists, along with another 60 workers involved in protest actions in Daqing City, are still unaccounted for. Neither the PRC authorities nor the ACFTU have responded to ICFTU inquiries on this subject. In March, however, the Heilongjiang Provincial Federation of Trade Unions was quoted by the Ming Pao newspaper, in its issue dated 28th March, as declaring: “[T]he ACFTU will not tolerate workers organising in this way”.

In late March, during one of the demonstrations in Daqing’s “Iron Man” Square, a 50-year old woman, married to a retrenched Daqing worker, was beaten and arrested after she delivered a speech. It was reported she was staging a hunger strike in a detention centre. And on March 27th, Li Yan, a 60-year old retired worker, was also arrested. Whereabouts of both persons are unknown at the time of writing.

In the period since the complaint was submitted, more information has come to light concerning the social context in Daqing. Hence, in October 2001, over three hundred laid off women workers from the Daqing Blanket Factory collectively petitioned in front of government offices, demanding that the government either renegotiate their original redundancy packages in line with Daqing City's official policy or reinstate them in their jobs. While the pattern for redundancy packages in the region amounted to Rmb 3,500 per year of service, the 3,000 odd workers had been dismissed with a one-off payment of Rmb 10,000. Meanwhile, their factory had been sold to a private investor and had resumed production with replacement workers.

On 15th October 2001, riot police attacked several hundred female workers after they had assembled in front of city hall, shouting slogans, demanding to see the mayor and playing the Internationale on cassette recorders. Two male and three female workers were arrested and many more were injured, some severely. When colleagues demonstrated the following day, demanding the prisoners’ release, they were told that the detainees would only be released if their colleagues paid for room and board costs for the duration of their detention.

A further demonstration, on 23rd October, led to the arrest of two more workers’ leaders. Meanwhile, the ACFTU said it was not concerned with the case, while simultaneously acknowledging that it had not been involved in the factory’s initial restructuring operation, two years earlier, in violation of existing laws. As for city council authorities, they refused to confirm the number of those arrested, but stated that the workers had “engaged in illegal behaviour though shouting slogans and pasting up banners”. They also said the workers had already been properly compensated under existing laws.

Sentence of workers rights’ advocates in Sichuan

The ICFTU has also been informed that Hu Mingjun and Wang Sen, two democratic opposition activists who advocated workers’ rights in Sichuan, have just been sentenced to heavy prison terms, as follows.

Hu Mingjun and Wang Sen are provincial leaders in Sichuan Province of the China Democratic Party (CDP), which is not recognized by the authorities. Hu was living in Chengdu and Wang, in Dazhou, when on December 18, 2000, about 1000 workers of Dazhou Steel Factory organised a public demonstration, as they had not been paid for one year. Both Hu and Wang had contacts with the demonstrating workers.

The CDP of Sichuan issued a statement containing three demands:

  • workers should be allowed to organise their own trade unions in accordance with the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which had recently been signed by the Chinese government; (the ICFTU recalls that the PRC later ratified the ICESCR, in February 2001, with a formal reservation on art. 8 (a) of the Covenant, the provision that specifically guarantees freedom of association for trade union purposes);

  • that the government guarantee the unemployed workers the right to livelihood by improving the social security system;

  • that the government solve the root problem of corruption which had brought about the demonstrations.

Wang was arrested on April 30th, 2001 in Dazhou; as for Hu, he was arrested on May 30. They were charged of ‘inciting to subvert the power of the state’ – a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment.

Over one year later, on May 30th, 2002, they were sentenced in a secret trial at Dazhou Intermediate People’s Court on charges of subversion, which is a more serious charge, frequently leveled at independent labour activists. The ICFTU was informed, in fact, that the charge was changed during the trial itself. Our sources cite this as evidence of the official hard line against workers’ organisers after the mass protests in Liaoyang, mentioned earlier in this complaint.

Hu and Wang’s families had not been informed of the, but reports suggest that defense counsel was or were present. The ‘evidence’ used in t heir trial was the above-mentioned statement issued by the CDP in Sichuan. They were accused of, in the name of the ‘hostile organisation’ of the CDP, inciting and organising the workers in Dazhou to demonstrate and thus disrupting social stability.

Hu was sentenced to 11 years, and he has reportedly already decided that he would not appeal; Wang was sentenced to 10 years. Earlier reports indicated that a third individual, Zheng Yongliang, had also been arrested in this case. It is not known whether he has since been released or whether he was also sentenced in the same trial.

May I request you, Mr. Director-General, to kindly forward this information to the Committee on Freedom of Association. Thanking you in advance, I remain,
With best regards,

Yours sincerely,

General Secretary

ICFTU to ILO, 1st June 2002, Appendix 1

Chronology of the Liaoyang labour struggle (from 1998 to mid-March 2002 )

In 1998, Yao Fuxin, a former worker of the "Liaoyang Steel Rolling Mill" and nine employees from Liaoyang’s Ferroalloy Factory went to Beijing to petition for a clampdown on corruption. It is recalled that Chinese authorities officially invite the population to act against and denounce corruption at all levels. During the following year, Liaoyang workers repeatedly expressed their dissatisfaction with corruption to the central government, including the Disciplinary Committee, the State Council's General Office and Complaints Station, and the All6china federation of Trade Uniosn (ACFTU). However, the officials had never taken any real notice of them.

In 2001, the officials of Liaoyang Ferroalloy Factory organised a vote, during which the forced the employees to vote in favour of the factory’s bankruptcy. The officials sent the police to monitor the election. When any employee voted against, his or her ballots would be torn immediately. After the bankruptcy, all workers who had worked in the factory for less than 30 years, obtained retrenchment compensation of only 600 yuan per year, and no retirement welfare. 3000 workers lost their jobs immediately.

Since then, non-payment of wages has become very serious at the Ferroalloy Factory. In general, the factory owes workers from six to seven months’ back wages. Before the bankruptcy, the factory had promised to return half of the total salaries owed to the workers but, in actual fact, never did so. Numerous retrenched workers (“xia gang” workers) could not maintain their basic living standard.

11th March 2002

At the beginning of March, Gong Shangwu, the head of the Liaoyang Municipal Peoples’ Congress, said at the National Peoples’ Congress, in Beijing, that there was no unemployment in Liaoyang, and that the municipal government guarantees that job seekers could get 280 yuan living allowance. Liaoyang workers’ and people’ anger was ignited by Gong’s speech. Starting on 11th March, about twenty thousand workers from 6 factories, including the Liaoyang Ferroalloy Factory, demonstrated in front of the municipal government building, demanding that Gong Shangwu live up to his statements and provide them with adequate living conditions and dismissal benefits.

12th March

During the second day of protests (there were still over 10000 workers demonstrating on streets), eleven city leaders, including the chief of police, addressed a crowd of 10,000 workers and promised that they would refrain from arrests of protest organizers.

17th March

Yao Fuxin (54 years-old), a workers’ representative, was secretly picked up near his home by plain-clothes police officers, but the Liaoyang Public Security Bureau denied detaining anybody.

18th March

More than 30,000 workers demonstrated in demand of Yao's immediate release. Since the secret detention of Yao Fuxin, other representatives were being given round-the-clock protection by their fellow workers to try and prevent further secret arrests.

20th March

For three consecutive days on March 18, 19 and 20, tens of thousands of Liaoyang workers from different factories gathered in front of the city government offices demanding the release of Yao Fuxin.

At 8:30 a.m. on March 20, a worker representative named Gu Baoshu went inside the Security Bureau headquarters to negotiate, but was immediately detained. A worker who saw this informed the workers outside, who then broke into the office and rescued Gu.

Having stood in the rain until 11am, the workers decided to return home. In order to protect the three worker representatives, those are: Pang Qingxiang (male, 58 years old); Xiao Yunliang (male, 57 years old) and Wang Zhaoming (male, 39 years old), more than 40 elderly workers surrounded them in a circle. Not far from the City Hall, about 100 riot police attacked and beat the elderly workers. Forcing their way through the protective circle, the police arrested the three representatives.

21st March

On the morning of March 21, around 1,000 workers from the Ferroalloy Factory in Liaoyang , once again gathered in front of the municipal government building. They demanded the release of four arrested workers' representatives. In the midst of the protest action, Guo Suxiang (female, 56 years old), wife of arrested leader Pang Qingxiang, was also arrested by the police. Another retrenched (xia gang) worker from the Liaoyang Printing and Dyeing Factory tried to intervene, shouting, "This arrest is wrong!" As a result the police also arrested him and took him away. Guo Suxiang was released on the same day. The situation of the unnamed detained worker from the Printing and Dying Factory remains unclear.

ICFTU Complaint to ILO - Case No. 2189 updates on events in North East China

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