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Labor Leader Yao Fuxin Is Released after Completing Seven-year Term

March 16, 2009

On Monday, March 16, 2009, Yao Fuxin (姚福信), a long-time labor activist, was released from Lingyuan No. 2 Prison, Liaoning Province, after completing his seven-year term on conviction of “subversion of state power.” In March 2002, Yao was detained after speaking at a two-day peaceful demonstration involving at least 5,000 workers from six factories in Liaoyang, Liaoning Province, to demand back wages and pension payments. Yao’s initial charge of “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order” was later changed to the more serious charge of subversion, a charge based on his alleged involvement in the banned China Democracy Party. During trial, the court accepted the prosecution’s charge that Yao organized labor activities even after his detention.

It is tragic for Yao and for China that a labor activist who was demanding back wages and pension payments was imprisoned for seven years and abused.
— Sharon Hom, Executive Director of HRIC

Before his detention and imprisonment, Yao was one of China’s most outspoken labor activists. In 1998, Yao joined others to petition the central government against corruption at the Liaoyang Ferro-Alloy Factory, where his wife, Guo Sujing (郭素静), was employed. In May 2001, 2,000 tons of iron ore at the factory were stolen by more than 50 men during a break-in, and the factory went bankrupt in November that year. But the factory’s workers charged that the robbery was led by local court officials and the bankruptcy was orchestrated by the factory’s leaders in collusion with the local government. Yao and other workers demanded a full investigation but none was ever conducted.

In early 2002, Yao was elected as spokesperson of the newly founded All-Liaoyang Bankrupt and Unemployed Workers’ Provisional Union. The massive protest in March 2002 that Yao helped organize was a response to a statement made by the head of Liaoyang Municipal People’s Congress, Gong Shangwu, that in Liaoyang, there was “no unemployment,” when the estimated combined unemployment and underemployment rate was 60 percent. The workers demanded Gong’s resignation. Yao also wrote letters to the central government – including to then President Jiang Zemin – as well as to provincial and municipal governments. On March 17, 2002, Yao was taken away by several plainclothes policemen but the authorities denied the detention. For several days beginning on March 18, 30,000 Liaoyang workers from 20 factories protested to demand Yao’s release.

During his detention and imprisonment, Yao suffered two heart attacks and a stroke. In the Liaoyang Detention Center, he and 19 other inmates were made to sleep on one bed. There, a guard named Lang arranged for two death-row prisoners to watch Yao. Every time Yao closed his eyes to sleep, the two prisoners would step on him. Yao went hungry often as there was not enough to eat. Vegetables were not washed before cooking, so he ate vegetables caked with mud.

HRIC also learned that in late 2002 and early 2003, as the weather got cold, Yao did not have enough clothing or warm bedding. He was placed near an open window, and often he would wake up covered with snow. When he requested permission to ask his family to bring him money so that he could buy bedding for the winter months, prison officials told him they could not get through to his family by phone.

According to sources close to Yao, Yao expressed that he felt it was his duty to fight for the interests of the people and the country, and that what he suffered was a price he was willing to pay.

“It is tragic for Yao and for China that a labor activist who was demanding back wages and pension payments was imprisoned for seven years and abused,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China (HRIC). “HRIC hopes that the government will learn a lesson from Yao’s case. Instead of cracking down on workers, the authorities need to focus on protecting their basic rights. This is especially important as currently more than 20 million migrant workers are unemployed and forced to return to the countryside, and their numbers are growing.”

Yao is currently under three years of deprivation of political rights, including the freedoms of speech, assembly and association.

For additional information about Yao Fuxin, see::

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