An open letter from scholars to the Chinese authority demanding the release of the arrested labour NGOs workers
The Chinese government has expanded its crackdown on civil society. Since 2015, hundreds of human rights lawyers, feminists, and labour activists have been harassed, detained and sentenced to prison sentences. In 2018, workers’ demands to unionize at the Shenzhen Jasic Technology Company drew the backing of left-wing students from elite universities. According to media reports, 30 people, including the Jasic workers themselves, their student supporters, and others have been detained in a widening net. This case has rightly drawn international concern.

Less reported however has been the government’s policy of extending the repression to a significant number of labour non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in South China regardless of whether they were involved in the Jasic dispute. Following the arrest of two members of a Shenzhen group known as the Dagongzhe Workers Center, the official Xinhua News Agency issued an erroneous report on August 24, 2018, accusing Dagongzhe of instigating a strike at Jasic. In January 2019, a further round of detentions involved five staff members from the Shenzhen Xin Gongyi (Shenzhen New Justice), Shenzhen Chunfeng Labor Disputes Services Center as well as a labour rights law firm. Three staff of an online workers’ rights advocacy website ‘I-labour’ were detained between January and March 2019. It is possible more will be pulled in by authorities soon.

As China and labour studies scholars, we have been researching civil society and labour relations in China for many years. Labour NGOs like the ones affected in this round of repression have been an important focus of our research. We have documented and debated the role that such organizations have played China's social development. These groups have operated within the law and striven to educate, serve, learn from and defend workers’ legal rights. Indeed, their efforts have contributed significantly to improving the working and living conditions of migrant workers. More broadly, the programming of labour NGOs has supported key policy objectives such as eradicating poverty.

Rather than repression, we hold that the work of Chinese labour NGOs should command the utmost respect. Given their meagre resources, grassroots organizations can only provide a low level of pay to their employees. They do not act for their own material gain but to serve the underprivileged and wider society in general. Some of their leaders and staff are former workers themselves who joined NGOs to help others avoid the hardships they faced as frontline workers. Others are educated young people who have made the choice to sacrifice a potentially prosperous future in order to serve others and contribute to the just and equitable development of China. These are precisely the sort of people who offer hope for China’s future.

Since joining the World Trade Organisation in 2001, the Chinese government has reached out to civil society for advice and partnership on pressing problems. But this approach seems to have been largely abandoned especially regarding civil society organisations engaged in anything more than providing minimal service provision. This is a self-defeating change in policy. In the long run, the coercive measures currently being deployed will serve to deepen social conflict and hamper the balanced development that the government seeks to achieve.

In solidarity with the detainees and out of concern for the change of policy direction in China, we hereby advise the Chinese government:

1) Release the arrested Fu Changguo, Wu Guijun, Zhang Zhiru, He Yuan Cheng, Jian Hui, Song Jia Hui, Yang Zhengjun (Baozi), Wei Zhili, Ke Chengbing and other arrested labour NGOs staff
2) While they remain in detention, allow family members and lawyers to visit as stipulated by the law  
3) Stop the repression of activists in different sectors and create conditions for a more democratic and open society


Signees (In alphabetical order; to be updated, as of 24 April 2019):

Gilbert Achcar, Department of Development Studies, SOAS University of London

Mark Anner, School of labor and employment relations, Penn State University

Nathan Attrill, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University

Hauzizio Atzeni, CONICET Center for Labor Studies and Research

Tat Chor Au-Yeung, Centre for Social Innovation Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Amanda Ba, Visual arts, Columbia University

Frauke Banse, Political Science, University of Kassel

Jon Bekken, Communications, Albright College

Daniel Bendix, Social Sciences, Friedensau Adventist University

Torsten Bewernitz, Express. Zeitung für sozialistischen Betriebs- und Gewerkschaftsarbeit

Andreas Bieler, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham

Ruy Braga, Department of Sociology, University of Sao Paulo

Erica Brindley, Asian Studies and History, Pennsylvania State University

David Brophy, Department of History, University of Sydney

Joe Buckley, Department of Development Studies, SOAS University of London

James Cavalluzzo, BC Government & Service Employees’ Union

Anita Chan, Department of Political and Social Change, Australian National University

Chris Chan, Department of Sociology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Jenny Chan, Department of Applied Social Sciences, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Ka Ming Chan, Political Science, University of Munich

Yee May Chan, Department of Social Work, Hong Kong Baptist University

Yuen-Yung Sherry Chan, Sociology, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Roxy Chang

Sammy Chiu, Faculty of Social Science, Caritas Institute of Higher Education

Yubin Chiu, Department of Social Development, National Pingtung University

Simon Clarke, Department of Sociology, University of Warwick

Susanne Choi, Department of Sociology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Erika Chu

Ya-han Chuang, Sociology, Paris-IV Sorbonne University

Jennifer Jihye Chun, Department of Asian American Studies, University of California Los Angeles

Fei Lik Chung

Alexander Day, History, Occidental College

Mercier Delphine, Sociology, Aix-Marseille Université

Jannis Eicker, Political Science, Kassel University

Manfred Elfstrom, School of International Relations, The University of Southern California

Andreas Exner, Institute of Geography and Regional Science, University of Graz

Cathy Feingold, The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations

Stephan Feuchtwang, Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics

Leta Hong Fincher, Author and Sociologist

Chi Keung FUNG, The Academy of Hong Kong Studies, The Education University of Hong Kong

Floyd, Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics

Ivan Franceschini, Department of Political and Social Change, The Australian National University

Eli Friedman, International and Comparative Labor, Cornell University

Chloe Froissart, Department of Chinese Studies, Université Rennes 2

Daniel Fuchs, Sociology, University of Göttingen

Vincent Gay, Laboratoire de changement social et politique, Pairs Diderot University

Julie Greene, History Department, University of Maryland, College Park

Gilles Guiheux, CESSMA, Université de Paris

Laurence Harris, School of Finance and Management, SOAS, University of London

Yunbing He, Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences, City University of Hong Kong

Pazul H. Hentze, Institute of Political Science, University of Magdeburg

Tom Henry

Brian Hioe, New Bloom Magazine

Jude Howell, Department of International Development, London School of Economics

Elaine Hui, School of Labor & Employment Relations, Penn State University

Saukuen Hui

Wai Man Raymond IP

Tomoaki Ishii, School of Commerce, Meiji University

Feyzi Ismail, Department of Development Studies, SOAS University of London

Gosia Jakimow, School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University

Calvin Jang

Minhyoung Kang, Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University

Kai Kajitani, Graduate School of Economics, Kobe University

Rebecca Karl, Department of History, New York University

Séagh Kehoe, History, University of Leicester

Razmig Keucheyan, Department of Sociology, Université de Bordeaux

Wai Sum Kung, Department of Social Work, Hong Kong Baptist University

Ching Kwan Lee, Department of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles

Chun Wing Lee, Division of Humanities, Design and Social Sciences, Poly U Hong Kong Community College

Chun-Yi Lee, School of Politics and International Relations, The University of Nottingham

Kim Lee, Division of Social Sciences, Community College of CityU

Jens Lerche, Department of Development Studies, SOAS, University of London

Aurélie Leroy, CETRI

Man-kong Li, Department of Political Science, Central European University

Jake Lin, Institute of Global Studies, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies

Thung-Hong Lin, Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica

Ralph Litzinger, Cultural Anthropology, Duke University

Nicholas Loubere, Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies, Lund University

Simon Sihang Luo, Department of Political Science, Indiana University

Nicola Macbean, The Rights Practice

Yuen Fung Mak, Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences, City University of Hong Kong

Thomas Marois, Department of Development Studies, SOAS University of London

Lexi Mo,Olin College of Engineering

Andrew Newsham, Department of Development Studies, SOAS University of London

Jessie Ngok

Ka Lun Ng, Division of Social Science, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Roger E. Noether, Graduate Institute of Art History, National Taiwan University

Ian Parker, School of Business, University of Leicester

Allie Petonic, Student Labor Global Workers' Right, Penn State University

Andrea Enrico Pia, Department if Anthropology, London School of Economics

Eva Pils, Law School, King's College London

Nicola Piper, Sydney Asia Pacific Migration Centre, The University of Sydney

Geoffrey Pleyers, CriDIS, University of Louvain

Tim Pringle, Department of Development Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies

Pun Ngai, Department of Sociology, The University of Hong Kong

Jack Qiu, School of Journalism and Communication, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Manjeet Ramgotra, Department of Politics and International Studies, SOAS University of London

Manuel Rodaldo , School of labor and employment relations, Penn State University

Stefan Schmalz, Sociology, Friedrich Schiller-University Jena

Mark Selden, East Asia Program, Cornell University

Alina Shen, Riders Alliance (New York City NGO)

Amanda Shuman, Institute of Chinese Studies, University of Freiburg

Kaxton Siu, Department of Applied Social Sciences, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Alvin Y So, Division of Social Science, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Dorothy J. Solinger, Department of Political Science, University of California, Irvine

Jon Douglas Solomon, Institute of Transtextual and Transcultural Studies, University of Lyon

Christian Sorace, Department of Political Science, Colorado College

Sean Starrs, Department of Asian and International Studies, City University of Hong Kong

Sarah Swider, Department of Sociology, University of Copenhagen

Linda Szabó, Sociology and Social Anthropology, Central European University

Denise Tang, Cultural Studies, Lingnan University

Elizabeth Tang, International Domestic Workers Federation

Lynn Tang, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Hong Kong

Rebecca Tarlau, College of Education, Penn State University

Bill Taylor, Department of Public Policy, City University of Hong Kong

Chris Tilly, Urban Planning, University of California Los Angeles

Fuk Ying Tse, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick

Jonathan Unger, Department of Political and Social Change, Australian National University

Ya Fang Wang

Liam Ward, School of Media and Communication, RMIT University

Patsy Wharton

Shan Windscript, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne

Meena Wong, Civic Education Network Of Canada

Stella Wong, Department of Public Policy, City University of Hong Kong

Xi Wu, Wellesley College

Yoshihiko Yamamoto, Economic History Society

Shiwei Ye, Independent Human Rights Analyst

Jessica Yeung, Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies, SOAS University of London

Lun Zhang, Chinese Civilization, University of Cergy Pontoise

Lucie Zheng, The Department of Sociology, Lund University


** Chinese Version ( https://bit.ly/2FO3zUU )

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