Chinese rights advocates are calling for the release of an Internet activist who will soon face trial in a case that they say highlights the government’s fear of increasingly bold public activism.
Supporters say Wang Lihong (王荔蕻), 56, represents a growing breed of Internet-empowered Chinese activists — ordinary people who mobilize others to fight problems such as corruption or miscarriages of justice. They say Wang is being punished for her involvement in a street protest in southern China against the prosecution of three bloggers.
“I believe that Wang Lihong has not committed any crime,” said Ai Xiaoming (艾曉明), a Guangzhou-based feminist academic who helped set up a blog calling for Wang’s release. “She is someone who has emerged from the Internet era ... to become an organizer of citizen action.”
Wang, held at a detention center in central Beijing, is expected to be tried in several weeks on the vaguely worded charge of “creating a disturbance” and will plead not guilty, her lawyer Han Yicun (韓一村) said. If convicted, she faces up to five years in jail.
The charge is linked to Wang’s participation in a demonstration outside a court in Fuzhou City in April last year in support of three bloggers accused of slander after they tried to help an illiterate woman pressure authorities to reinvestigate her daughter’s death.
One rights group said Chinese authorities deem Wang a threat because she represents a movement to use the Internet to organize real-world protests.
“That crucial step of moving protests from online to real social-political space is precisely what worries authorities,” Chinese Human Rights Defenders international director Renee Xia said.
Public activism has surged in recent years, helped by the popularity of microblogs which allow rapid dissemination of information. Wang also joined a handful of activists in publicly celebrating the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) in October.
“I think the most important thing is that every person learns how to be their own citizen, and not become someone else’s subordinate,” Wang said in an interview at that time.
“In the past, it was always about obeying the orders of a higher authority, saying yes, yes, yes all the time,” Wang said. “But now everyone must know their human rights and be able to guarantee this. Only when you have responsible citizens will you have a well-functioning, lawful society.”
Wang was detained by Beijing police in late March during a crackdown on activists.