China - Five labour activists arrested

On 20 January 2019, five labour activists – Zhang Zhiru, Jian Hui, Song Jiahui, Wu Guijun and He Yuancheng – were arrested by Shenzhen Police in Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Changsha. Four of the five were refused permission to meet with their lawyers, although He Yuancheng was able to meet his lawyer. Their families, who had hired the lawyers for them, reported that they were continuously harassed by the authorities. On 5 March 2019, it was confirmed that all five of them were formally arrested on charges of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order”, and they were likely to face lengthy imprisonments.

The move was considered part of the government’s crackdown on increasing labour unrest, targeting some of the country’s most effective activists.

Wu Guijun and Zhang Zhiru were considered the two most prominent and effective labour activists in Shenzhen over the previous five years. After organising workers at Hong Kong-owned furniture maker Diweixin in Shenzhen in 2013, Wu Guijun was detained for more than a year before being released without charge in June 2014. Following his release he continued to help workers as an independent activist.

Zhang Zhiru became a prominent activist after working on construction sites and assembly lines and founded the Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service Centre in 2007, which was involved in numerous labour disputes during the 2010s and guided thousands of workers through collective bargaining with their employers. Jian Hui also worked at Chunfeng, while He Yuancheng was the former editor of the Collective Bargaining Forum, and Song Jiahui, formerly a worker at the Lide Shoe factory in Guangzhou, was elected worker representative in arguably the most successful collective bargaining case in the recent history of the workers’ movement in China.

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