China holds #MeToo activist Huang Xueqin who reported on Hong Kong protests

The authorities accused Ms Huang Xueqin of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble".
The authorities accused Ms Huang Xueqin of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble".PHOTO: NYTIMES

BEIJING (NYTIMES) - Chinese authorities have detained a journalist who was a leading figure in the country's #MeToo movement and had recently written about the anti-government protests in Hong Kong, her friends said on Thursday (Oct 24).

The activist, Ms Huang Xueqin, was detained last week in the southern city of Guangzhou, according to friends who asked not to be identified by name.

The authorities accused Ms Huang, 31, of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble", a vague accusation that the government often uses to silence activists who challenge the status quo.

Ms Huang is best known in China for her role in the country's fledgling #MeToo movement, which achieved some success despite China's authoritarian system. She helped dozens of women report cases of sexual assault and abuse online, battling censors and a male-dominated culture. The movement took on professors, television anchors, religious leaders and others.

"We're not brave enough to stand out as one individual," she said last year in an interview with The New York Times. "But together, we can be strong."

Ms Huang is now also the latest mainland citizen known to have been detained for showing support for the Hong Kong protests.

The ruling Communist Party has depicted demonstrators as rioters seeking political revolution, and police on the mainland have in recent months detained and questioned several citizens who have shared protest slogans online.

In June, Ms Huang published an essay about her experience attending the first massive march in Hong Kong against a Bill, now withdrawn, that would have allowed the extradition of the territory's residents to mainland China.

She wrote that she was attending the rally "with the intention of giving voice to, participating, bearing witness and recording history", and criticised the mainland's restrictions on free speech when she learnt that her social media posts about the protest had been censored.

 
 
 
 

Her detention has raised concerns among human rights groups who have denounced a broad crackdown on dissent that China's leader, Mr Xi Jinping, has waged since rising to power in 2012. Dozens of lawyers, journalists and activists have been detained, and many have been sent to prison.

"It only shows how fearful Chinese authorities are," said Ms Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch, an advocacy organisation.

"They are afraid that protests in Hong Kong could inspire challenges to the government in the mainland, and that anyone expressing ideas of freedom of democracy is a threat to the Communist Party's rule."

It was unclear precisely why Ms Huang had been detained, and police in Guangzhou did not answer a call seeking comment.

Since February, Ms Huang, who also goes by Sophia, had been travelling to Taiwan, a self-governing island, and Hong Kong, where she had planned to attend law school in September, her friends said. Chinese leaders consider Taiwan part of China.

After she began chronicling her experiences in Hong Kong, police on the mainland confiscated her passport in August and harassed her relatives, her friends said.

In that same June essay about Hong Kong, Ms Huang spoke critically about the way that a Chinese state news outlet had depicted protesters as being backed by Western forces. Protesters have dismissed such claims and asserted that they alone are demanding greater police and official accountability and universal suffrage.

"Perhaps, under the powerful apparatus of the party-state, ignorance and fear can be cultivated, information and news can be shielded, and reality and truth can be distorted," Ms Huang wrote. "But when you personally experience what happened - witness it - you can pretend to be ignorant no more."