China formally arrested four labor activists who have helped workers fight for their rights, lawyers for two of them said Sunday, as the government steps up a crackdown on activists pressing for change within the system.
Rights groups say the current clampdown on dissent is the most sweeping in two decades in China, where slowing growth in the economy has led to a surge in labor disputes, particularly in the manufacturing powerhouse of Guangdong province.
Zeng Feiyang, director of the Panyu Migrant Workers Centre in Guangzhou, was charged with “disturbing social order”, a Reuters report quoted Cheng Zhunqiang, his lawyer, as saying.
Zeng is one of China’s most prominent labor activists, many of whom have campaigned for the legal rights of workers, such as proper work contracts and social insurance contributions.
Two other activists, Meng Han and Zhu Xiaomei, have also been arrested on the same charge, the report said, citing Yan Xin, Meng’s lawyer, and Cheng.
He Xiaobo was arrested on a charge of embezzlement, New York-based rights group China Labor Watch said.
Cheng and Yan told Reuters prosecutors in Guangzhou told them of the arrests of Zeng and Meng on Friday but did not give any reason for the charges.
Both lawyers said they had been unable to meet their clients since their detentions, in contravention of Chinese law.
A formal arrest usually leads to a trial.
Last month, police in Guangzhou detained seven labor activists, sparking criticism from rights groups. Two of them have since been released, Cheng said.
At the time, state media accused the seven detained labor activists of “inciting workers to go on strike”, accepting foreign funding and “disturbing social order”.
They also said the married Zeng had “at least eight long-term lovers”, a charge that Zeng’s supporters call a smear against him.
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