Detention of Critic of Child Abuse Draws Ire in China

By Didi Kirsten Tatlow (New York Times)
June 7, 2013

BEIJING — The first urgent message came at 11.41 in the morning of Thursday, May 30: Ye Haiyan, a campaigner against child abuse and for the rights of sex workers and those with HIV/AIDS, wrote that her home had been invaded and she was being physically attacked in Bobai, Guangxi Province.

“Now there are four or five women in my home, beating me,” wrote 37-year-old Ms. Ye on Sina Weibo, the discussion platform that is often likened to China’s “town square.” She had just returned from nearby Hainan Island where she had taken part in a mocking protest outside a school whose principal had allegedly raped several girls, one of many cases of child sex abuse that have come to light in China recently, attracting widespread attention and disgust.

A minute later, at 11:42, Ms. Ye pleaded: “Please everyone call the police, there’s only me and my daughter at home.”

At 11:58: “11 people in total. One is a man. About 10 women.”

And the last message at 11:59, before she disappeared into 13-day-long police detention: “They’re still blocking the stairs at my building. Please everyone report it to the police. Though it’s no use. But I still want a record, to solve it through legal means.”

Here’s a screenshot of Ms. Ye on the homepage of her Weibo account:

Public attention on Ms. Ye, a well-know advocate for women and children’s rights, was already high for her staging of the Hainan protest, during which she stood in front of the Wanning Elementary School with a placard that read: “Principal, if you want to ‘get a room’ look for me; leave the students alone!”

The protest was in connection with a case in early May where the school principal and another state employee were accused of molesting or raping six girls in a hotel. The facts remain unclear, with the Wanning police and the girls’ parents offering different accounts. The principal has been arrested and charged, the South China Morning Post reported, citing Xinhua, the state news agency,

And currently there is intense interest among ordinary Chinese over Ms. Ye’s fate; activists have launched a campaign for people to send police postcards supporting Ms. Ye, and post online photos of themselves holding up the postcards. Some have posted online photographs of themselves with copies of Ms. Ye’s sign, including the dissident Ai Weiwei (who wrote the words on his belly.) After a feminist-themed play in Beijing this week in a private theater, actresses appealed to the audience to support Ms. Ye, with some analyzing the police action as part of a push by officials to drive her out of Bobai and Guangxi province, where officials regard her as a “troublemaker.”

The police said they detained Ms. Ye for using a knife during the incident and injuring three persons. Ms. Ye’s lawyer, Wang Yu, said she was acting in self-defense; Ms. Ye herself has written about being attacked in the past by people she calls “alternative mafia” saying: “people in the government are out to get me,” according to this translation available on The Shanghaiist blog.

According to Ms. Wang, the people barged into her home uninvited and threatened her verbally and physically. Ms. Ye is suing the police, seeking cancellation of her detention order and 10,000 renminbi in compensation for mental suffering.

Reached by telephone, a person at the the Bobai Public Security Bureau who identified herself as a policewoman declined to discuss details of the case, but seemed anxious to disown Ms. Ye.

“Ye Haiyan is not from Bobai. She just lives here,” said the woman, who gave her surname as Qin, declining to give her first name. Asked about the incident, she referred a caller to the Bobai police Weibo account. She then hustled a caller off the phone, saying the line should only be used “for work purposes.”

On the police Weibo account is a short statement, posted on June 3, saying: “Ye Haiyan has been detained for 13 days for intentional injury; it has nothing to do with her online action” — an apparent reference to the Hainan protest, images of which circulated widely online.

The account showed what it said was a “vegetable knife” (it looks like a chopper) allegedly used by Ms. Ye to attack the three women, whom the police said were the owners of hotels in the area which last year were identified by Ms. Ye as “10 kuai brothels,” used by the cheapest of prostitutes. The women claimed their family and business reputations were injured by Ms. Ye.

Ms. Ye is well known for an action last year where she offered herself as a 10 renminbi (about a dollar and a half) prostitute, to highlight the plight of women who offer sex for that small amount. She says many are fleeing abusive husbands or working to support children alone, and are often picked up by the police and fined, or jailed.

Here’s how the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, a non-governmental organization, describes Ms. Ye: “Ye has a long history of activism related to gender, child abuse, and sex work. She blogs avidly about women’s rights in China, and is known for volunteering as a no-fee sex worker at a ’10 RMB brothel’ to protest the poor working conditions of migrant sex workers. She was also attacked in 2010, after organizing China’s first sex workers’ rally.”

Here’s how Frontline Defenders, a human rights NGO that has issued an appeal for her, described the incident in Ms. Ye’s home last week: “In an effort to defend herself and her daughter she used a knife to drive her attackers away, reportedly injuring three of them in the process. Shortly thereafter she was taken into custody by police and is being detained on suspicion of ‘causing intentional injury’.”

Ms. Ye is due to be released next week.