Financial Times: China drops charges against labour activist Wu Guijun

10 June 2014

China Labour Bulletin is quoted in the following article. Copyright remains with the original publisher.

9 June 2014

By Tom Mitchell in Beijing

Chinese prosecutors have dropped charges against a labour activist in southern Guangdong province, in a case widely seen as a litmus test of official tolerance for the country’s increasingly robust worker movement.

Wu Guijun, 41, went on trial in Shenzhen this year for allegedly leading a worker protest that disrupted public order – a charge used to jail a number of legal rights activists over the past 12 months.

On Monday, however, prosecutors dropped the charges. Mr Wu had been released on bail late last month after spending more than a year in a detention centre, where he shared a small room with as many as 50 other prisoners. He could have spent another four years behind bars had he been convicted.

“I was held for one year and seven days on dubious grounds,” Mr Wu said. “At a minimum I expect them to give me a reasonable explanation and am discussing possible next steps with my legal team.”

Labour lawyers and activists rallied to Mr Wu’s defence, packing the courtroom when his trial began in February. Mr Wu admitted leading workers who demanded more compensation when they were informed that their furniture factory was moving to a cheaper location inland.

But he insisted the workers were simply protecting their legal rights, and denied leading a march to local government offices during which traffic was allegedly disrupted.

“It seems pretty clear that the prosecution simply didn’t have any evidence [against Mr Wu],” said Geoffrey Crothall of China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based worker rights group. “The court would have looked stupid if it had gone ahead and produced a guilty verdict.”

Mr Wu is the latest labour activist to receive relatively lenient treatment.

Meng Han, who led a group of hospital security guards in a protest in Guangdong’s provincial capital, Guangzhou, received a nine-month prison term last month for disrupting public order. He was released shortly after the verdict on the basis of time already served.

Lin Dong, another labour activist who attempted to help tens of thousands of striking workers at a Taiwanese shoe factory in Guangdong, was released on bail last month. Police had earlier charged him with spreading rumours online.

The release of labour leaders such as Mr Wu contrasts with the harsher treatment of legal and human rights activists picked up in the run-up to last week’s 25th anniversary of the June 4 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Although some have been released over the past week, lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and journalist Gao Yu face potentially long prison terms for, respectively, “causing a disturbance” and leaking state secrets.

Chinese police have also indicated that they will expel the artist Guo Jian, a naturalised Australian citizen, this month for an alleged visa violation. One day before he was picked up, the Financial Times published a lengthy interview with Mr Guo about his experiences as a student protester at Tiananmen.

Additional reporting by Wan Li

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