09/27/2016, 15.12
CHINA
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Guangzhou: three trade unionists sentenced for causing social problems

by John Ai

The sentence includes jail time and probation. The accused were members of an NGO working on behalf of workers’ rights. They were charged with causing damage with strikes and negotiations with companies. All three pleaded guilty and decided not to appeal. The leader, Zeng Feiyang, was accused of receiving foreign funds to harm the Chinese government.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – A court in southern Guangzhou city sentenced three labor activists to prison with probation on 26th September. The three arrested labor activists providing law assistance for workers. The activists were accused of accepting overseas funding, organizing strikes among workers and causing social disruptions that caused companies suffered losses.

Zeng Feiyang, the head of Panyu Laborer Document Service Center, was sentenced to three years in prison with four years of probation for causing social disruptions. Tang Huanxing and Zhu Xiaomei, staff members of the NGO, were both sentenced to one year and a half in prison with two years of probation on the same accusation. Along with the arrested activists, Meng Han's case was sent back by the court for supplementary investigation.

According to Xinhua, China’s official news agency, the three activists confessed their guilt in the court. "I apologize for the fault that brought losses to companies, society and workers. I deeply regret the huge harm on my family. I hope people will learn a lesson from me. Do not get hooked up by overseas organizations...", Zeng Feiyang said in the court.

Zeng Feiyang established the NGO in 1998. As one of the first NGOs helping workers, it provided legal aid and offered help in strikes and negotiations with companies for a decade. The NGO registered with business administration authority but the registration was later revoked. Zeng was also honored as the "the charitable figure" by Southern Metropolis Daily in 2012. He was beaten by unidentified people in his office in 2014, and was arrested in December, 2015.

The court hearing centered on the strikes in Lide Shoe-making Factory. The factory planned to move away in June 2014. The dispute broke out because the workers' social security had not not paid and workers worried the factory would lay them off without compensation after moving away. The court claimed that Zeng Feiyang organized strikes three times in 2014 and 2015 that caused losses of 2.74 million yuan (US$ 410,000) in output and 0.93 million yuan (US$ 140,000) in lost profit. The court also said that Zeng Feiyang planned and carried out the deeds, and Tang Huanxing and Zhu Xiaomei were active participants: Tang was responsible for Internet media and Zhu organized and incited the workers.

According to Xinhua, Zhu Xiaomei said in the court that Zeng Feiyang and she trained some workers. Zeng provided textbooks with the history of the trade union movement in the West, case studies of strikes and election of trade union. Zeng also sent Zhu Xiaomei for training in Hong Kong and Indonesia and implement the tasks after returning to China.

Xinhua said that Zeng sent photos of strikes to foreign media. Interviewed by foreign media, Xinhua said that Zeng exaggerated the dispute between workers and companies and distorted it so that it would seem to be a conflict between workers and government, "smearing the image of China and attacking China's social system".

The Lide Shoe-making Factory paid 120 million yuan in total compensation to the workers in April 2015. Tang Huanxing said in the court that Zeng benefit the most from the strike. Although workers got temporary benefit, the factory suffered huge economic losses and business hardship, and many workers lost their jobs for this reason.

Previously, Xinhua claimed that Zeng Feiyang received funds from the China Labor Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based NGO, and foreign embassies in China. Xinhua said that most of the funds were embezzled by Zeng who bought two properties and a car.

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