Friday, October 14, 2016

Guangzhou labor activists are given suspended sentences

The trial of three labor activists - Zeng Feiyang, Zhu Xiaomei and Tang Huanxing - is over. The verdict came the same day of the trial - September 26 - which was held in a courtroom on the outskirts of Guangzhou. Feiyang was sentenced to three years, with a suspension or reprieve of four years. If he commits an offense during those four years, then he will have to serve his prison sentence. This may very well mean he will not be able to get involved in the things he excels in during that period of time - labor organizing and collective bargaining. The same is true of Xiaomei and Huanxing who received a sentence of 1.5 years, with a suspension or reprieve of two years. The other activist still in detention, Meng Han, has yet to have his day in court. His case was sent back by local prosecutors to the police investigators for further review.

The sentences were bittersweet. They were lighter than expected, especially that of Zeng Feiyang who was the target of a high-level smear campaign conducted by state media organs soon after his arrest and not allowed to see his lawyer for six months. And the suspended sentences mean that they can now go home to be with their families. But the lighter sentences came with a cost. The plaintiffs had to admit they were guilty of "gathering a crowd to disturb social order" even though their efforts to organize workers to engage in collective bargaining had the opposite intention, which was to get workers to the bargaining table and find a peaceful, orderly way to resolve their dispute. And as already mentioned, their sentences mean they may have to abstain from the work that they excelled in, which was to organize and train workers on collective bargaining.

The politics of this case are interesting and there should be more analysis forthcoming. The impetus for the arrest of these activists appears to have come from the center, but local law enforcement were charged with carrying out the arrest, investigation and prosecution of this case. In the past, Guangzhou and Panyu law enforcement had cooperated with Feiyang on a number of occasions and knew him well. Did local law enforcement officials play a role in getting a lighter sentence for these plaintiffs and making the best of a difficult situation? Interestingly, while the media reports of the trial focused on Feiyang's closing statement in the trial concerning foreign funding and involvement, the court verdict made no mention of foreign funding and involvement. Instead, it offered a more narrow argument and set of evidence detailing how the plaintiffs were making efforts to encourage workers in the Lide factory to go on strike. In other words, it looked at the case from the perspective of social stability rather than national security in an effort to lower the sensitivity of the case and justify a lesser sentence for the plaintiffs.

Below are many of the media reports that came about soon after the sentencing was announced. 

English-language media reports

China court sentences trio for disturbing social order-

Chinese-language media reports

曾飞洋等聚众扰乱社会秩序案一审宣判 三被告认罪_财经网 - CAIJING.COM.CN                        

广东劳工NGO案今宣判 “首要分子”曾飞洋判三缓四_手机凤凰网

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