December 23, 2015 / 8:20 AM / 2 years ago

Chinese labor activists stand accused by state media

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese state media have accused seven detained labor activists of “inciting workers to go on strike”, accepting foreign funding and “disturbing social order”, sparking criticism from rights groups.

Zeng Feiyang, director of the Guangdong Panyu Migrant Workers Center, talks on his phone during an interview in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, January 20, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandra Harney

The accusations come amid what rights groups say is the most sweeping clampdown on dissent in two decades in China, whose government has detained hundreds of activists working within the system to press for change.

Earlier this month, police in Guangzhou detained Zeng Feiyang, the director of the Guangzhou-based Panyu Migrant Workers Centre, on a charge of “disturbing social order”, said Zeng’s lawyer, Cheng Zhunqiang. Six other activists have also been detained, according to rights group Amnesty International.

The more detailed accusations listed by state news agency Xinhua late on Tuesday and state broadcaster CCTV on Wednesday follow a string of “confessions” made by high-profile suspects on state television and articles used to discredit detained rights lawyers.

Critics say these accounts deprive the accused of the right to a fair trial.

“Workers’ representatives believe that the real motive of Zeng Feiyang et al is to incite workers to strike, create a social impact, interfere with factories’ normal production and disturb social order,” Xinhua said.

Zeng and the other activists “forced factories’ leaders into submission and incited workers to surround law enforcement agencies, causing a very bad impact on society”, Xinhua said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a daily news briefing that the case would be handled “in accordance with the law”. The Guangdong government and public security bureau did not answer calls for comment.

The detentions come amid a significant increase in the number of labor disputes in the southern manufacturing powerhouse of Guangdong as the Chinese economy slows.

In November, Hong Kong-based advocacy group China Labour Bulletin documented 56 strikes in Guangdong, calling it a record. The group said this was due to factories closing down and bosses running off without paying wages.

Xinhua said the married Zeng had “at least eight long-term lovers” and sent sex videos and “vulgar messages” to women online.

“As a lawyer, I would like the charges made by a country against a citizen to be in the courts, rather than handling them in the manner of ‘Cultural Revolution’ posters,” Cheng told Reuters by telephone, referring to a 1966-1976 campaign that convulsed the country in chaos and violence after then leader Mao Zedong declared class war.

Apart from Zeng, the other detained activists are Zhu Xiaomei, He Xiaobo, Meng Han, Peng Jiayong, Deng Xiaoming and Tang Huanxing. It was not possible to reach them or their lawyers.

Geoffrey Crothall, communications director at China Labour Bulletin, said the activists were helping workers fight for their legal entitlements.

“These groups are the ones that are actually upholding the law.”

Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie

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