Chinese #MeToo Activist Sophia Huang Jailed for Five Years

Prominent Chinese #MeToo activist Sophia Huang Xueqin has been sentenced to five years in prison for “subversion against the state.” The conviction and sentencing occurred on Friday, nearly 10 months after her trial began. Labour activist Wang Jianbing, who stood trial alongside Ms. Huang, received a three-year and six-month sentence.

Sophia Huang, 36, was a leading voice in China’s #MeToo movement, reporting on sexual abuse victims and highlighting misogyny and sexism in Chinese newsrooms. The charges against her and Wang remain unclear, as their trial was conducted behind closed doors. Supporters believe they were targeted for hosting forums and meetings for young people to discuss social issues.

Ms. Huang was detained in 2021 at Guangzhou airport while preparing to leave for a UK-government sponsored master’s scholarship at the University of Sussex. Wang, 40, was detained alongside her. Both activists endured nearly 1,000 days of solitary confinement before their trial commenced in September 2023.

A BBC Eye investigation in 2022 revealed that Huang and Wang were held in secret locations known as ‘black jails.’ Their detention occurred amid a broader crackdown on activists in China during Covid lockdowns and rising public dissent.

The campaign group Free Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing emphasized the significance of their activism: “Their efforts and dedication to labor, women’s rights, and the broader civil society won’t be negated by this unjust trial, nor will society forget their contributions.” Amnesty International condemned the convictions as “malicious and totally groundless,” with China Director Sarah Brooks stating, “The Chinese government is terrified of the emerging wave of activists who dare to speak out.”

Public reaction to Ms. Huang’s trial has been mixed, with some decrying the case and others criticizing the feminist movement. Advocates for gender rights and social causes in China often remain anonymous online, facing accusations from state media and nationalists of being “agents of hostile western forces.”

It remains unclear if the time Huang and Wang have already served will count towards reducing their sentences. Despite the harsh sentences, supporters and human rights organizations vow to continue fighting for their release and highlighting their contributions to social justice in China.

The sentences handed down to Sophia Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing have drawn widespread condemnation from international human rights organizations and activists. The convictions are seen as part of a broader strategy by the Chinese government to suppress dissent and silence voices advocating for social justice and gender equality.

Global Outcry and Support

Amnesty International’s China Director, Sarah Brooks, emphasized the chilling effect these convictions could have on activists in China. “The harsh sentences against Sophia and Wang are meant to send a message to anyone daring to speak out for human rights and justice in China. However, their courage and dedication continue to inspire activists worldwide.”

Human Rights Watch also issued a statement condemning the sentences, calling for their immediate release and for the international community to hold China accountable for its human rights abuses. “The international community must not remain silent in the face of such blatant injustice. We call on governments and global organizations to pressure China to release Sophia and Wang and end the persecution of activists.”

Impact on the #MeToo Movement in China

Sophia Huang Xueqin’s imprisonment is a significant blow to the #MeToo movement in China. Huang’s reporting on sexual harassment and abuse had emboldened many survivors to come forward and share their stories. Her work shed light on the pervasive culture of silence and impunity surrounding sexual violence in China.

“The conviction of Sophia Huang is a setback for the #MeToo movement in China, but it will not stop us,” said a fellow activist who chose to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. “We will continue to fight for justice and support survivors. Sophia’s bravery has lit a spark that will not be extinguished.”

Continuing the Fight

Supporters of Sophia Huang and Wang Jianbing are mobilizing to raise awareness about their plight. Online campaigns and social media hashtags are being used to draw international attention to their case. Advocacy groups are also organizing petitions and letter-writing campaigns to Chinese embassies worldwide, demanding their release.

“While Sophia and Wang may be behind bars, their spirit of resistance lives on,” said an activist involved in the campaign. “We are determined to keep their stories alive and continue their work. The world needs to know what is happening in China.”

A Call for International Action

The case of Sophia Huang and Wang Jianbing has highlighted the need for greater international scrutiny of China’s human rights record. Activists are urging the United Nations and other international bodies to take stronger action against China for its crackdown on civil liberties and human rights defenders.

“The international community must stand with the brave activists in China who risk everything to fight for justice,” said a spokesperson for the campaign. “We call on world leaders to speak out against these unjust sentences and to use all diplomatic means to pressure China to release Sophia and Wang.”

As Sophia Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing begin their prison sentences, their supporters remain steadfast in their resolve to fight for their freedom and for the rights they championed. The global outcry against their imprisonment underscores the importance of their work and the enduring impact of their activism.