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China #MeToo journalist sentenced to five years in prison, supporters say

By Nectar Gan, CNN

Hong Kong (CNN) — A leading #MeToo journalist in China has been sentenced to five years in prison on subversion charges, according to supporters, as the ruling Communist Party ramps up its effort to dismantle what remains of the country’s civil society.

Huang Xueqin, an independent journalist, was found guilty by the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court Friday for “inciting subversion of state power,” supporters said.

Labor activist Wang Jianbin, another defendant in the case, was sentenced to three and a half years, according to supporters, who shared a copy of the verdict on X.

Huang told the court she would appeal, the supporters said, though it was not immediately clear if Wang would also appeal.

Huang, 36, and Wang, 40, have already spent nearly three years behind bars within China’s opaque judicial system.

They were detained by authorities in the southern city of Guangzhou in September 2021 and stood trial behind closed doors in September last year.

Huang, who worked as an investigative reporter for liberal-leaning media outlets in Guangzhou before becoming an independent journalist, had been an instrumental figure in sparking China’s #MeToo movement.

In 2018, she helped bring about the country’s first #MeToo case, using her influential social media presence to amplify the voice of a graduate student who accused her PhD supervisor of unwanted sexual advances.

She also spoke up about her own experiences of sexual harassment as a young intern at a national news agency, where she claimed she was groped and kissed by a senior male reporter and mentor.

To show the prevalence of the issue, she surveyed 416 female journalists in 2018 and found 84% of them had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

“There are so few people prosecuted because there are only so few victims who report,” she told CNN in a 2018 interview. “To most victims, it’s shame.”

Huang and Wang were detained the day before Huang was scheduled to fly to the United Kingdom to start her master’s degree on gender violence and conflict at the University of Sussex.

In a statement on Friday, Amnesty International noted the pair’s conviction came a day before the 1,000th day of their first arrest.

“These convictions will prolong their deeply unjust detention and have a further chilling effect on human rights and social advocacy in a country where activists face increasing state crackdowns,” the rights group said.

“These malicious and totally groundless convictions show just how terrified the Chinese government is of the emerging wave of activists who dare to speak out to protect the rights of others.”

Chinese courts are tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party and have a conviction rate above 99.9%.

‘Isolated atoms’

Authorities have offered no details about Huang and Wang’s charges, but supporters believe their arrest could be related to weekly friends’ gatherings held at Wang’s apartment.

In the months following their detention, more than 70 friends and supporters of Huang and Wang were summoned by the police for questioning, according to supporters.

Some were forced to sign fabricated testimonies against the pair, claiming they had organized political gatherings to criticize the government, their supporters claimed.

Huang’s close friend said participants of the gatherings were a loose group of friends who cared about public affairs – from feminism, LGBTQ and labor rights to environmental protection. In addition to sharing their experiences and views, they also played board games and sometimes went hiking together.

A close friend of Huang previously told CNN the journalist had suffered significant weight loss in detention and stopped menstruating for months. She was undernourished and persistent back pain, said the friend, who requested anonymity fearing retribution by authorities.

“It’s a community where everyone supports each other. But it’s been disbanded ever since the detention. I have no sense of belonging anymore,” the friend told CNN last year ahead of the closed-door trial.

“The crackdown by authorities turned us into isolated atoms – it is difficult for everyone to band together again. The entire community is suppressed and silenced.”

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