China detains feminists ahead of Women's Day

BEIJING (AFP) - At least four Chinese feminists have been detained ahead of International Women's Day, a lawyer said Saturday, in what appears to be a move by Beijing to head off public protest linked to the holiday.

Li Tingting, a young activist best known for staging demonstrations in men's lavatories to call for an increase in the number of public toilets for women, was taken away from her home in Beijing around 11pm Friday, her lawyer Yan Xin told AFP by phone.

Another three Beijing activists, all women, have also been detained, Yan said.

The four activists' whereabouts is unknown, Yan said, adding that while authorities have not communicated a reason, he believes the women's detention "may be related to tomorrow's holiday".

Li, who goes by the pseudonym Li Maizi, organised protests in Beijing and the southern metropolis of Guangzhou three years ago in which she and other women "occupied" men's toilets.

According to another Chinese activist, Li was planning to hold a demonstration on Sunday to protest sexual harassment of women aboard public transportation.

Another campaigner, Zheng Churan, has also been taken away from her home in Guangzhou, the activist said. AFP was not immediately able to confirm her detention.

China's ruling Communist Party has publicly highlighted International Women's Day, which falls on March 8, with officials hailing the advancement of women's rights and organising events for female journalists in Beijing.

"Tomorrow is International Women's Day, so everyone is paying attention to national policies related to gender equality, and respecting women is also a mark of a society's progress," Wu Hongqin, a representative to China's National People's Congress (NPC), said at a government news conference Saturday on the status of women.

Yet Chinese authorities regularly round up activists and force the cancellation of events ahead of key dates, wary of any public demonstrations that could spiral into dissent against the party's rule.

The move comes as the annual meeting of the NPC, China's rubber-stamp legislature, is underway in Beijing. The conclave is typically marked by heightened security throughout the city.

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