The mysterious disappearance of Sophia Huang Xueqin, the woman who promoted China’s #MeToo

The mysterious disappearance of Sophia Huang Xueqin, the woman who promoted China’s #MeToo

On September 19, 2021, Sophia Huang Xueqin and labor rights defender Wang Jianbing “disappeared” while on their way to the airport in the city of Guangzhou, in southern Guangzhou. China.

Huang was about to fly to the UK after winning a government-funded Chevening scholarship to pursue gender studies at the University of Sussex in south-east England.

The journalist’s reports and campaigns helped boost China’s #MeToo movement in 2018for which she is considered one of the main defenders of women’s rights in that country.

Now, after more than seven months in detention, both she and Wang are expected to face trial on charges of “inciting subversion of the state”, a serious charge that could lead to years in prison.

The BBC investigated how a disinformation campaign against her has been carried out in China. And also, the reason for the silence in the United Kingdom where she had to arrive that September.

Promoter of China’s #MeToo

In Huang’s case, her own experience of sexual assault led her to a historical survey in 2017 which revealed that more than 80% of female journalists in China had suffered sexual harassmentbut they remained silent.

He also reported on cases of #MeToo prominent in the country and won an award last year for her profile on feminist activist Li Qiaochu.

Now, she is among the tens of thousands of activists – many of them women’s rights defenders – who “disappeared” in China after working for human rights in recent years.

She had already been detained for three months in China after writing a blog post about the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019.

Diana Fu, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto (Canada), told the BBC that Huang’s case is “emblematic” because it illustrates the challenges activists face in China due to the Beijing government’s worsening crackdown on civil society.

“The government perceives the #MeToo movement as part of the transnational movement advocating liberal democratic values,” Fu said. “He sees this type of activism, not only as a threat of mobilization, but also as an ideological threat.

“It is a terrifying phenomenon”

Many activists like Huang and Wang, who champion gender rights and other social justice causes, have been accused of being agents of hostile Western forces and are attacked online by nationalist trolls.

“On China’s internet it is difficult to differentiate between a commentator at the service of the state and an ordinary user,” Liu Lipeng, who worked as a censor for the Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo, the country’s most popular, told the BBC. now resides in the United States.

Liu helped remove “sensitive” content on the platform between 2011 and 2013, reviewing up to 60,000 posts daily.

In Huang’s case, he says the Chinese authorities have embarked on a disinformation campaign against him.

“Huang is a very famous reporter. If they want to erase everything from her past, it is a very difficult task,” said Liu. “[En lugar de eso]used defamatory comments to negatively influence people’s perception of her. It’s a terrifying phenomenon”.

Weibo did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment.

The Chinese embassy in the UK told the BBC that China is “committed to upholding social fairness and justice” and “strongly opposes anyone who spreads disinformation and defames China under the guise of protecting human rights.” and freedoms”.

As Huang and Wang’s cases are handed over to prosecutors in China, Kris and other supporters abroad plan to continue raising awareness of their plight.

“Being inside or outside of China is like being inside or outside a wall. But being outside doesn’t mean you’re free,” Kris said.

“Only when they are free can we all be truly free.”

“They will not silence us”

In recent months, supporters of the Chinese activists have staged solidarity protests in London, Taipei (Taiwan) and Hong Kong, launching a campaign under the hashtag #FreeXueBing and urging people to send postcards to the Guangzhou detention center asking for their freedom. release.

In the UK, supporters are also calling on British institutions to take a stronger stance on Huang’s case.

“We are doing this to show that we are not going to be silenced”said a Chinese supporter in London who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

“We urge the university, the Chevening and the British government to take further action.”

Advocates for the activists accuse the university and the Chevening scholarship program of not speaking out for fear of antagonizing the Chinese government.

Students from China make up approximately 20% of international enrollment at the University of Sussex, and their tuition fees – along with collaborations with Chinese institutions – provide a significant revenue stream.

A delicate matter

When Huang’s disappearance was first reported, the University of Sussex and Chevening issued the following statement: “We are concerned for the safety and whereabouts of our student. Our staff are in contact with Chevening to seek further details.”

But since then neither agency has made any further public statements.

In an internal email, later leaked to the BBC, students and staff were warned not to discuss Sophia’s situation.

The university said it was a delicate matter and that media requests should be addressed by the press office, citing data protection concerns.

Kris, a Chinese feminist in the UK and a friend of Huang who spoke to the BBC under a pseudonym for fear of retaliation from the Chinese state, said she was outraged to learn the university had “censored” the case.

“[La universidad] claims to nurture future feminist activists and leaders, but then instructs students not to discuss this issue,” Kris said. “It’s the same situation as it would be in China.”

In response to the BBC, a university spokesman said the institution “remains deeply concerned about the safety and whereabouts of its prospective student” and has been in “regular contact” with Chevening and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Foreign Office. Development (FCDO), a department of the UK government.

That person also said the university followed the advice of the FCDO, which assured the BBC it was “following the matter closely.”

In December, more than 100 Chevening scholars (current and former scholars) signed a letter asking the Chevening team to call for the release of the two activists and for the FCDO to open a dialogue with the Chinese government about their cases.

Members of the UK Union of Universities and Colleges also issued a statement in defense of Huang and Wang.

Chevening did not respond to BBC requests for comment.

Lijia Zhang, a Chinese feminist writer in London, told the BBC she is “disappointed” by the international community’s relative silence on Huang’s case, in contrast to that of Huang. Peng Shuaia tennis star who has accused a former high-ranking Chinese Communist Party official of sexual assault.

Peng’s disappearance was widely covered by the international media, leading many tennis celebrities and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to speak out on her behalf.

The WTA also suspended tournaments in China for this case.

“Sophia’s case has sparked a long-overdue global discussion about the role of global institutions in protecting Chinese academics at risk of persecution,” Joanna Chiu, author of the book, told the BBC. China Unbound and former Beijing correspondent.

“As Huang received a UK government-funded scholarship to study at the University of Sussex, these institutions have a responsibility to advocate for his release,” he added.

Melissa Galbraith
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.