Concerns are growing for the health of detained feminist labor activist Sophia Huang, whose trial date has been set for later this week, amid allegations she has been tortured in detention.
Lawyers acting for Huang and fellow labor activist Wang Jianbing, who was detained at the same time as Huang two years ago, met on Tuesday with officials from the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court, who told them the pair will stand trial on Friday for “incitement to subvert state power,” the Free Xueqin and Jianbing Facebook page posted on Tuesday.
“The trial will be held this Friday, Sept. 22 at 9:30am in Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court,” the group said. “These two people have been arbitrarily detained by the police for two years.”
“We strongly urge the court to hold an #open trial and to #exclude illegal evidence,” it said, adding that there had already been several breaches of due legal process in the case.
Huang and fellow labor activist Wang Jianbing were detained on Sept. 19, 2021 and later charged with “incitement to subvert state power,” a charge frequently used to target peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Huang had planned to leave China via Hong Kong on Sept. 20, 2021 for the U.K., where she planned to take a master’s degree in development with a prestigious Chevening Scholarship, while Wang, who is a labor and healthcare rights activist, had planned to see her off on her journey.
Concerns over health and treatment
Friday’s trial date comes amid ongoing concerns about Huang’s health and her treatment at the hands of the authorities. She is currently being held in the Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Center.
A close friend of Huang’s who gave only the nickname Wanxia said she had been subject to “torture” in the form of sleep deprivation and malnutrition while in detention.
“She has been continually tortured, frequently interrogated suddenly in the middle of the night, and had her schedule disrupted,” Wanxia said. “She lost weight in a short space of time and stopped menstruating for more than five months, while she has suffered from calcium deficiency, low blood pressure and blood sugar in the past two years.”
“These details may just be the tip of the iceberg,” Wanxia said. “We are very sad and worried about this.”
She said Huang and Wang could face lengthy jail terms for their peaceful activism.
“They both really care about this country and want to … do something practical [to help], but they just wound up being accused of trying to incite subversion of state power,” Wanxia said.
Another friend of Huang’s who gave only the nickname Mark for fear of reprisals said the two had been “kidnapped” by the authorities, and the case against them fabricated.
“[Huang] is a journalist who loves to speak out for disadvantaged and minority groups,” he said. “She has not done anything to incite the so-called subversion of state power.”
“The incident should be a wake-up call to young people today,” Mark said.
U.S.-based rights activist Zhou Fengsuo, who serves as executive director at the New York-based group Human Rights in China, said the years-long delay without a trial is another form of mistreatment that is typically used in political cases in China.
He said it is likely that Huang and Wang have refused to offer up a “confession” or to plead guilty.
“If victims of political persecution don’t plead guilty, they just get held forever,” Zhou said. “They treat you as if you had a lifetime sentence.”
“It’s getting very common now … and the kinds of things they subject people to in detention are getting worse and worse.”
Before being targeted by the authorities in 2019, Huang had been an outspoken member of the country’s #MeToo movement, and had carried out a survey of sexual harassment and assault cases among Chinese women working in journalism.
Huang was present at a million-strong protest in Hong Kong on June 9, 2019 against plans to allow extradition to mainland China, and was detained for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” in October 2019, before being released on bail in January 2020, a status that often involves ongoing surveillance and restrictions on a person’s activities.
Her travel documents were confiscated after her return from that trip, preventing her from beginning a law degree in Hong Kong the fall of 2019.
Huang had previously assisted in the investigation and reporting of a number of high-profile sexual harassment allegations against professors at Peking University, Wuhan University of Technology, Henan University and Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou.
Wang started to work in rural development after graduating in 2005, before joining the Guangzhou Gongmin NGO in 2014 as director and coordinator for youth work.
In 2018, he started advocacy and legal support work on behalf of workers with occupational diseases, and was also a vocal supporter of China’s #MeToo movement.
Translated by Luisetta Mudie.