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ICFTU Protests over arrest and sentencing of independent Chinese trade unionists

ICFTU Online... 027/990204/DD, 4 February 1999

Brussels February 4 1999 (ICFTU OnLine): The ICFTU is protesting to the Chinese authorities, and will be raising the question of China's human and trade union rights record at the United Nations over the recent arrest and sentencing of four labour rights campaigners.

The ICFTU says that these are part of a series of recent attacks on independent trade unionism, and that it will be urging the UN Commission on Human Rights to adopt a resolution on China, at its next session which begins on March 22 in Geneva. The ICFTU will also be raising these cases with the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association

In the first of the two cases, Yue Tianxiang and Guo Xinmin tried to organise laid-off workers at a state company, and have been charged with subverting China's communist-led government. If they are found guilty, they could be sentenced from 10 years to life imprisonment.

The two men had worked for the Tianshui City Auto Transport Company in western Gansu province for 20 years, but they, along with 1800 others were made redundant over the last three years. The company, which has debts of more than $US7million, stopped paying unemployment relief and medical benefits to the laid-off, or pensions to its retirees.

In January Yue and Guo began to organise the Chinese Workers Monitor to help colleagues demand overdue payments, but they were arrested by the police on January 11.

In another similar, but unrelated case, on January 20 Liu Tingchai and Yan Jinghong, two former railroad workers were sent to a labour camp for disrupting social order after they organised a large protest last year to demand unpaid salaries. The men have been sentenced to one and one-and-a-half years labour camp, respectively, to undergo re-education through hard labour. Both men had led a 500-strong protest on October 21 from the state-owned Peijiang iron and steel factory in Jiangyou town in Sichuan province demanding three months of back pay.

The subversion charges used against Yue Tianxiang and Guo Xinmin are increasingly used to punish dissidents. Courts used this to send three prominent democracy campaigners to prison in December in a Communist Party-ordered crackdown on dissent.

On December 21, a day after releasing labour activist Liu Nianchun from prison, two more dissidents, Xu Wenli and Wang Youcai, were sentenced to 13 and 11 years respectively for attempting to start the country's first opposition party and calling for trade union freedom. Another dissident Xu Wangpin, was sentenced at the end of 1998 to three years in a Sichuan labour camp for disturbing the social order. Xu, a former factory worker, had already served eight years in prison for trying to organise an independent trade union during the 1989 pro-democracy protests.

Last November the ICFTU issued a report on Torture and ill-treatment of detained trade union rights and labour activists and their relatives, based on China's reply to an ICFTU complaint at the ILO. The report described the standard procedure for dealing with independent trade union activists: arrest and sentence without any legal basis, followed by torture and denial of medical care in forced labour camps.

The ICFTU report, designed as an informal contribution to the EU-China human rights dialogue, was initially supposed to be discussed in Beijing by the ICFTU itself. But, last July, a top-level ICFTU delegation to China was called off at the last minute, when Beijing's official trade union organisation said it would refuse to discuss the situation of trade union prisoners in China with senior international trade union leaders in the ICFTU delegation.

At the UN Commission, where the ICFTU will be raising the worsening situation of human and trade union rights in China, it will also be drawing the Commission's attention to the grave trade union rights situation in 15 countries. These include South Korea, Burma, Belarus, Djibouti, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Colombia, Guatemala and Ecuador.