2018 to 2019 have been two years of intense crackdown for China’s labour activists. Beginning with the Jasic Trade Union struggle of July 2018, wave upon wave of China’s labour activists have been arrested or disappeared in an attempt to suppress labour activism in China.

Over a year and a half since the beginning of the crackdown, eight activists arrested in early 2019— Yang Zhengjun, Wei Zhili and Ke Chengbing of the worker media platform iLabour, worker activist Wu Guijun; collective bargaining trainer He Yuancheng; Song Jiahui, Zhang Zhiru, and Jian Hui of the Chunfeng Workers Service Center—are rumored to be facing trial in the near future. They have all been held for over or nearly a year without trial. Thus far, relatives of the detainees have not been informed of their trial dates and have been denied any information about their cases. Relatives are concerned the detainees may face secret trial and be sentenced without a fair and transparent trial.

To raise awareness of these activists’ cases and demand the release of all detained Chinese labour activists, members of civil society and labour rights activists in Hong Kong are calling for supporters around the globe to participate in the One Kilometer Run for China’s Labour Activists. Participants are asked to take turns running ONE KILOMETRE (OR MORE IF DESIRED) with messages of solidarity for the arrested labour activists, and sharing your run for awareness on social media, your social media post will be subsequently shared on Red Balloon Solidarity Facebook Page. Participants are encouraged to dedicate your run to one of the criminally detained labour activists (their profiles and message placards can be found below) or other labour activists of your own preference.

If you would like to participate in Run for China’s Labour Activists, please register online here

Background of the Crackdown

From mid-2018 onwards, and continuing through 2019, China has conducted a massive crackdown on its domestic labour movement. Beginning with the repression of the explosive Jasic campaign, the crackdown has expanded into a wide-reaching sweep of labour activists across the country.

Since July 2018, over 130 labour activists have been detained, questioned or disappeared by the authorities. In 2018, several dozen worker activists and student supporters were arrested as part of the crackdown on the Jasic trade union struggle. The crackdown later extended to university campuses around the country, in a crackdown on vocal student supporters calling for the release of the Jasic activists.

By the beginning of 2019, the crackdown extended beyond Jasic to target long time labour activists in the Pearl River Delta, including staff and former staff of the Chunfeng Workers Service Center, long time worker activist Wu Guijun, and three activists of the worker media platform iLabour.  Targets during the long crackdown have also included social workers and even grassroots-level ACFTU staff.

Neither has the crackdown ended. Most recently, in December, Chen Weixiang and two other activists working with Heart Sanitation, a platform which advocates for sanitation workers’ rights, were administratively detained for 15 days.

Activist Profiles

Yang Zhengjun, Wei Zhili, Ke Chengbing, editors of the worker media platform “iLabour”

On 8 January 2019, Chinese police detained “iLabour” website editor Yang Zhengjun. Less than three months later, on 20 March, police detained another two of the website’s editors—Wei Zhili and Ke Chengbing. The three activists collabourate to produce “iLabour”, an independent online labour rights media platform created in November 2013. The website covers worker-related stories and news, shares workers’ rights defense experiences and provides workers with a platform for labour rights consultation.

At the time of their arrest, iLabour was reporting on and supporting a struggle for occupational disease compensation by Hunanese construction workers who had contracted pneumoconiosis working as blast hole drillers in Shenzhen. “iLabour” began supporting the pneumoconiosis workers’ struggle in early 2018, providing them with labour law consultation and sending out rights defense updates online to make their plight visible to the public.

Upon reaching the one month legal limit for criminal detention, the iLabour Three were transferred into Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location (RSDL), a controversial system of detention enacted into law in 2013. In RSDL, family members are not notified of the person’s whereabouts, and the suspects are routinely unable to see family appointed lawyers. Due to the lack of oversight allowing torture and forced confessions, UN experts consider RSDL may constitute a form of forcible disappearance. 

Yang, Wei and Ke were transferred from RSDL to formal arrest on 5 August 2019, yet their family-appointed lawyers’ requests to meet with them have continued to be denied.

Wu Guijun, worker activist 

Wu Guijun first came to light as an activist in 2013 when he organized workers at Hong Kong-owned furniture maker Diweixin in Shenzhen to protest the company’s refusal to discuss compensation for the planned closure and relocation of the factory. He was detained for more than a year before being released without charge in June 2014, at which point he began his career as an independent activist helping factory workers in the city to claim social insurance and other entitlements.

Wu was detained and criminally detained since 20 January, 2019, the date of his trail remains unknown.

He Yuancheng, collective bargaining trainer and editor of Collective Bargaining Forum

He Yuancheng once worked as a legal assistant at the Guangdong Workers Protection Law Firm. While working at the law firm, he trained workers on their legal rights. He later became the editor of Collective Bargaining Forum.

He was arrested and criminally detained since 20 January, 2019, the date of his trails remain unknown. 

Zhang Zhiru, founder of the Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service Center

The Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service Centre was founded in 2005 and has focused on spreading legal information and providing legal assistance to workers. It has been involved in numerous labour disputes, guiding thousands of workers through collective bargaining with their employers. The centre even won praise from state-run media outlet Global Times in 2014.

Zhang Zhiru has been one of the most prominent labour activists in Shenzhen for the past decade. After working on construction sites and assembly lines in his home province of Hunan for many years, Zhang founded the Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service Centre in 2005. 

Song Jiahui, worker activist, former staff of the Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service Center

Song Jiahui began her activism as a worker at the Lide shoe factory in Panyu, Guangzhou. She took part in the well-known strike at Lide from 2014 to 2015. During the strike, she became one of the nineteen negotiators democratically elected by the workers. After her experience as a negotiator during the strike, Song worked for a time at Chun Feng Labour Dispute Service Center to continue her service to the other workers. 

Jian Hui, former staff of the Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service Center

Jian Hui also worked at the Chun Feng Labour Dispute Service Center, helping workers to defend their rights.

All three were arrested and criminally detained since January 20, 2019, the dates of their trials remain unknown.