Two activists based in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou – including one of China’s most well-known women’s rights campaigners, have lost contact with their friends, raising fears that the pair may have been detained by police.
Friend Robert Cheng said he and others had not been able to contact Sophia Huang Xueqin and labour activist Wang Jianbing since Sunday afternoon.
Cheng said Huang had been planning to leave Guangzhou for Shenzhen with Wang and had booked to fly from Hong Kong to London on Monday.
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“Both Huang and Wang have not been contactable since Sunday afternoon and we are worried that they may have been detained,” he said.
Huang, also a freelance journalist, told friends that she had received a Chevening scholarship to study for a master’s degree at the University of Sussex.
“The Chevening scholarship requires her to return to China after completing the programme, and Huang has never wanted to leave China or emigrate,” Cheng said. “She always wants to live and do her work in China.”
A University of Sussex spokesman said: “We are concerned about the safety and whereabouts of our student. Our staff are liaising with Chevening to seek further details.”
Huang, 33, became a leading figure in the China’s #MeToo movement in 2018 when she helped plaintiffs in an alleged case of sexual harassment involving a prominent professor of Beihang University in Beijing. In October 2019, she was detained by Guangzhou police after she posted her experience of attending anti-government rallies in Hong Kong. She was released two weeks before the Lunar New Year in 2020.
Three months ago, she won an award from the Society of Publishers in Asia for her reporting on Li Qiaochu, who was detained in Shandong in February after speaking out for her partner and dissident lawyer Xu Zhiyong.
Wang previously served as director of the Western Sunlight Foundation’s rural education programme, helping students and teachers in less developed areas. He later moved to Guangzhou to focus on youth development, support for disabled people and the welfare of workers with occupational diseases.
Cheng said he was concerned that like other activists Huang and Wang could be accused of inciting subversion.
“Under the [subversion] charge, they may face heavy punishment and torture,” Cheng said.
“Huang Xueqin only wanted to go to Sussex to study and was told by the authorities last month that they would not stop her [leaving China]. She had her passport and visa.
“So she had actually kept a low profile for months hoping she could make the trip.”
Calls to Guangzhou police and attempts to contact the activists’ families on Tuesday were not successful.
Additional reporting by Mimi Lau
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This article Fears in China for missing #MeToo activist and labour rights campaigner first appeared on South China Morning Post