As the world celebrates the May 1 Labor Day holiday, labor activist Yao Fuxin (姚福信) languishes in prison simply for leading workers in a peaceful demonstration, serving as a reminder of the Chinese government's refusal to respect internationally recognized workers' rights.
"Chinese policy, enshrined in the Constitution, proclaims that workers and peasants are the foundation of Chinese society. Yet Beijing is ejecting tens of thousands of people from their homes to make way for the Olympic Games, and widely abusing the rights of migrant workers called in to help build the Olympic facilities," said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China.
"The International Olympic Committee is scolding China’s critics, urging that Beijing be given time to change. But if labor activists and human rights defenders like Yao are imprisoned to ensure their silence, how can this change come about?" Hom said.
Yao Fuxin was secretly detained and formally charged with "gathering a crowd to disturb social order" in March 2002 for his role in leading tens of thousands of workers from Liaoyang factories in a peaceful demonstration protesting against corruption and demanding the payment of back wages and pensions. He was later charged with the far more serious crime of subversion, due to alleged involvement in the banned China Democracy Party. During his trial, Yao insisted on his innocence, affirming his belief in the government and his desire to help resolve workers’ grievances.
Yao was given a seven-year sentence, which he is now serving at Lingyuan No. 2 Prison in Liaoning. He is due to be released in March 2009, at which point he is to be deprived of all political rights for an additional three years. Since his detention, Yao has been plagued by serious health problems. Family members, who visit him regularly, say he remains in very poor health today. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has determined that Yao is being arbitrarily detained.
In June 2007, a massive network of illegal brick kilns employing kidnapped slave labor in Shanxi and Henan provinces was uncovered and widely reported on in domestic and international media, underscoring persisting inhumane labor conditions and the weak legal protections for workers in China. Although some progress has been made in improving workers’ legal protections, the government continues to deny fundamental rights such as the right to organize independent unions and the right to strike.
For more information on labor rights and Yao Fuxin’s case, please visit HRIC’s Incorporating Responsibility 2008 Olympics Take Action Campaign (http://www.ir2008.com/).
For additional information about Yao Fuxin, see: