China Releases #MeToo Activist Who Covered Hong Kong Protests

China Releases #MeToo Activist Who Covered Hong Kong Protests

BEIJING — The Chinese authorities have released a prominent #MeToo activist and journalist whose detention nearly three months ago prompted an outcry from human rights groups, her friends said on Friday.

The activist, Huang Xueqin, 32, was detained by the police in October in the southern city of Guangzhou on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a vague accusation that the government often uses to silence activists.

Ms. Huang gained prominence as a #MeToo activist who confronted China’s patriarchal culture, helping dozens of women report cases of sexual harassment. More recently, she had drawn attention for traveling to Hong Kong and writing essays about the antigovernment protests there.

In a message to her friends on Friday, Ms. Huang said she was grateful for their support.

“This is Xueqin, and I’m back,” she wrote, according to a friend who received the message and asked not to be identified. “One second of darkness doesn’t make people blind.”

China’s #MeToo movement has taken on several prominent figures in media, academia and religion, despite government censorship and the male-dominated culture.

“We’re not brave enough to stand out as one individual,” Ms. Huang said in a 2018 interview with The New York Times. “But together, we can be strong.”

Human rights experts welcomed Ms. Huang’s release, though they cautioned that the governing Communist Party’s campaign to silence voices of dissent was still in full force.

“That she was detained at all is an indictment of Beijing’s hostility toward independent activism and journalism,” said Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group.

Under President Xi Jinping, who rose to power in 2012, the authorities have detained and imprisoned dozens of lawyers, journalists and activists.

It is unclear why the authorities detained Ms. Huang. The government has in recent months harassed and detained mainland citizens who have shown support for the protests in Hong Kong, which party leaders see as a separatist movement.

In her essays about the demonstrations there, Ms. Huang wrote about attending a huge march in June. She also criticized the mainland’s restrictions on free speech.

Calls to the Guangzhou police Friday evening were not immediately returned.

Mr. Xi’s efforts to limit dissent have continued to send waves of anxiety through China’s community of activists. Last month, as part of a nationwide crackdown, the authorities detained several prominent rights lawyers who attended a planning meeting in the eastern city of Xiamen.

One of the detained lawyers, Ding Jiaxi, had previously spent several years in prison for his role in the New Citizens Movement, a group of activists who called on officials to disclose financial assets. Xu Zhiyong, another prominent leader of that movement who also attended the meeting in Xiamen, is now in hiding, activists say.

“Will this persecution ever end?” said Ms. Richardson, of Human Rights Watch. “And will the responsible Chinese officials ever be held accountable?”

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