By Jennifer Cheung Today’s court hearing of the sentence of the 12 workers A Chinese court has jailed three leading workers for nine months for their roles in holding a rooftop protest last year. Meng Han, one of the worker leaders being sentenced, use …

Jennifer Zhang Asia, China,

By Jennifer Cheung

Today’s court hearing of the sentence of the 12 workers

A Chinese court has jailed three leading workers for nine months for their roles in holding a rooftop protest last year.

Meng Han, one of the worker leaders being sentenced, used to work as a security guard at the No. 1 Auxiliary Hospital of Chinese Medicine University in Guangzhou. Last May, after Meng and his fellow workers found that the hospital did not buy them legal security insurance packages, they started negotiating with the hospital for a proper compensation. However, the hospital refused to talk with workers. On August 19 last year, 12 workers, including Meng, went to the roof top of the hospital and held a banner demanding their legal compensation. They were soon criminally detained by local police on the charge of gathering crowd to disturb social order.

The Guangzhou Baiyun Court made the verdict today that it found the nine workers guilty, with three sentenced to nine months and six sentenced to eight months imprisonment. The maximum sentence for such a crime is seven years in prison.

Around 50 workers, labour NGOs and reporters attended the hearing, which was also broadcast live on Guangzhou TV.

When the verdict was announced six workers immediately said they would appeal.

Zeng Feiyang, director of Guangzhou Panyu Migrant Workers Centre, said on his weibo that in total 12 workers were on trial. The three works who were found guilty but received no sentence will be released from prison today.

On September 18, eight lawyers who defended the 12 workers issued a joint letter to the local police bureau, stating that Meng and other workers’ demand was reasonable and their protest was triggered by a pure labour conflict.  The 12 workers did not have the criminal intention to disturb social order nor had their action disturbed social order. The case should not be escalated to the criminal level.

“The government is supposed to give patient guide rather than apply criminal punishment to workers who were defending their legal labour rights,” the joint letter read. “By doing so the law enforcement system is politically escalating the conflict between the government and the people, which would plant a hidden threat in the society.”

The trial and sentence of labour activists by the state prosecutors have become increasingly worrisome this year. Early April a court in Shenzhen trialed another labour activist, Wu Guijun, who was charged with “gathering crowd to disturb transport order”. Wu and other 200 workers from a Shenzhen based furniture factory took to the streets last May, demanding the factory to pay their contract severance compensation, which is stipulated in the China Labour Contract Law.

The tension between workers, bosses and local governments has remained a high level in recent years. Chinese workers today are not afraid of holding protests and strikes to demand higher wages or defend their legal rights. According to the China Strike Map run by China Labour Bulletin, the number of monthly industrial actions across China reached a three year high this March, with a total of 119 incidents recorded. 38 occurred in the manufacturing industry and 32 were recorded in the transport sector.

Workers gathering for the Yuyuan shoe factory strike

Today’s trial result showcased the Chinese authorities’ old mindset of maintaining social stability and the new tendency of resorting to judiciary means to quell the rampant strikes and protests. The country’s increasing desperation can also be seen yesterday when several labour NGO staff were detained by local police for offering legal advice to striking workers in the Taiwan owned and Hong Kong listed Yuyuan shoe factory in Shenzhen.


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Jennifer Zhang

Jennifer Zhang is USi’s China coordinator based in Hong Kong.

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