Chinese police have released the five women's rights activists who were detained last month for planning campaigns against sexual harassment on public transport. The women were freed Monday evening after prosecutors decided to not press criminal charges.
The activists were detained a few days ahead of International Women's Day (March 8) for planning to hold peaceful gatherings and hand out stickers in Beijing, Guangzhou and Hangzhou. They were members of the China's Women's Rights Action Group and were between the ages of 25 and 32.
International condemnation and pressure on China to release the activists had been steadily building during the five weeks they were detained. Hillary Clinton recently declared via Twitter, “The detention of women's activists in China must end. This is inexcusable.” Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden had also publicly called for their release.
Li Tingting, Wu Rongrong, Zheng Churan, Wei Tingting, and Wang Man were released, but, as with most activists in China, they will remain a target for police scrutiny for all their activities going forward. Their lawyers stated that they have been released on what is essentially ‘bail’ and can be called for questioning at any time.
Since coming to power in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping has overseen the most widespread clampdown on activists in China in recent times. At the heart of the campaign is a bid to maintain full oversight and control of China's underdeveloped civil society. The well-known free-speech activist, Pu Zhiqiang, was another high-profile human rights advocate to be detained in the last year.
Their detainment came at a normally charged time in the Chinese political calendar, coinciding with the annual parliamentary session of the central government.