Prominent Chinese #MeToo Activist Sentenced to Five Years for “Subversion Against the State”

Sophia Huang Xueqin, a leading figure in China’s #MeToo movement, was sentenced to five years in prison on Friday for “subversion against the state,” nearly ten months after her trial began. Labor activist Wang Jianbing, who was tried alongside Huang, received a three-year and six-month sentence.

Huang, 36, gained prominence by reporting groundbreaking stories about sexual abuse victims and speaking out against misogyny and sexism in Chinese newsrooms. Despite the authorities not clearly stating the charges, supporters claim Huang and Wang were targeted for hosting meetings and forums on social issues.

Huang was detained at Guangzhou airport in 2021, en route to a UK-government sponsored master’s scholarship at the University of Sussex, with Wang present at the time. Both activists have reportedly endured nearly 1,000 days of solitary confinement before their trial started in September 2023.

In 2022, a BBC Eye investigation revealed that both activists were held in solitary confinement in secret locations known as “black jails.” In 2021, during COVID-19 lockdowns, Chinese authorities cracked down on several activists from various fields, including Huang and Wang.

The campaign group Free Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing condemned the trial, stating, “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 also criticized the convictions as “malicious and totally groundless.”

Sarah Brooks, Amnesty International’s China Director, said, “[They] 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.” She added that while #MeToo activism has empowered survivors globally, Chinese authorities have sought to suppress it.

It remains unclear whether the time already served by Huang and Wang will be credited towards their sentences. Public reaction to Huang’s trial has been mixed, with some decrying the case and others critical of the feminist movement welcoming it. Many gender rights and social causes advocates in China choose to remain anonymous online to avoid being labeled as “agents of hostile western forces” by state media and internet nationalists.

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