The lawyer of a Chinese women’s rights activist said Friday that Beijing police have told him that his clients and four other women activists have been criminally detained for planning to put up anti-sexual harassment posters in three Chinese cities.
Lawyer Wang Qiushi, who represents activist Wei Tingting, said police this week told lawyers representing the women that they have been accused of creating a disturbance. Wang said it wasn’t clear when the women were formally detained, which is a legal step before being tried in court, but police first informed him of the development on Monday.
He said if convicted of creating a disturbance, the women could serve up to three years in prison.
Lawyer Yan Xin, who met with his client Li Tingting on Thursday, said she received a written notice dated Sunday informing of her formal detention and laying out the accusation against her.
Wang said Friday that he had not yet been allowed to meet with his client and had not seen any written notice of her detention.
Beijing police did not respond Friday to a request seeking comment on the cases.
Police detained at least 10 women last weekend before they could put up posters in conjunction with International Women’s Day in subway stations and other public transportation facilities in Beijing, Guangzhou and Hangzhou, said activist Feng Yuan. Police are still holding and have formally detained Wei, Li Tingting, Wang Man, Zheng Churan and Wu Rongrong, the founder of the Hangzhou-based group Women Center.
“We think there’s no way the evidence adds up to the charge against her,” Yan said of his client.
Lawyer Wang said the protest “would have helped society.”
The case has fed fears that Chinese authorities are clamping down on public speech and dissent, with groups such as people running community libraries recently singled out for official harassment.
The detentions also drew condemnation from Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., who wrote on her Twitter account Thursday that the five should be released and that such actions restrict non-governmental organizations “fighting for universal rights.”
The European Union also called for their release Thursday, saying in a statement the action against the activists “violates their right to demonstrate peacefully.”