In a public letter issued on 12 May 2003, the ICFTU has denounced the harsh jail terms imposed last Friday on two Chinese labour leaders who were accused by the authorities of "subversion". Yao Fuxin, 52, was jailed for seven years and Xiao Yunliang, 57, for four years for leading demonstrations in March 2002 in Liaoyang, in the northeastern rust belt, where state-owned enterprises have been laying off millions of workers.
In a letter addressed to Chinese President Jiang Zemin, ICFTU General Secretary Guy Ryder urged him to intervene to obtain the release of Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang.
"I am deeply concerned to hear of the harsh prison sentences handed down on Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang, workers' representatives in the four-year campaign against corruption and bankruptcy at the Liaoyang Ferro-Alloy Factory. I am particularly concerned that besides having been denied access to their lawyers during their detention, justice was further denied in that the trial was conducted in the absence of Xiao's lawyer, Mo Shaoping, who was held up in SARS related quarantine by the Chinese authorities", wrote Guy Ryder.
During the hearing, Xiao Yunliang appeared almost totally blind and was unable to recognize close family members, and the ICFTU is extremely concerned at the inhuman treatment of the detained workers and the fact that they have been denied access to family members.
The two labour activists have been in detention since March 2002 and were tried by the Liaoyang Intermediate People's Court on 15 January 2003. According to their families, who have been subjected to continuous harassment by the authorities, "the charges were trumped up,and the verdicts are not acceptable". Yao and Xiao are expected to appeal against the verdicts.
The sentences on Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yungliang come only two months after the Governing Body of the 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.
In a first letter sent to the Chinese President in January 2003, the ICFTU pointed out that the Liaoyang workers were merely exercising their rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining as guaranteed by ILO Conventions.
"As a member of the ILO, China must live up to these international obligations and guarantee its workers these established rights", wrote Guy Ryder.