China has refused to release the three labor activists who were detained last month while investigating poor conditions in a Jiangxi factory — one that happens to make Ivanka Trump shoes.
The activists work for China Labor Watch, a New York-based non-profit that was looking into unfair treatment of workers at factories owned by the Huajian Group. The watchdog organization was planning to publish a report exposing poor working conditions, low pay, excessive overtime, verbal abuse and even abuse of student labor at the factory where workers were allegedly clocking 18-hour days while receiving a base salary that was below minimum wage.
But that report has been put on hold after government authorities arrested the activists for alleged use of illegal surveillance equipment late last month.
Labor activist Hua Haifeng.
Hua Haifeng is the one of the detained activists. He and his two co-workers, Li Zhao and Su Heng, are all being held at the Ganzhou City Detention Center in southeastern Jiangxi province, according to their lawyers.
Hua’s wife, Deng Guilian, told the Associated Press that government officials excessively questioned her following her husband’s arrest, asking about her connections to foreign media. She says that now she is unable to contact her husband in any way.
In fact, the only outside contact Hua has received was a 90-minute conversation with his lawyer, Wen Yu, according to The New York Times. During that conversation, Hua told Wen about the horrific conditions inside the prison, where he lived in tight quarters with 20 other prisoners and was forced to urinate in a bucket.
Wen attempted to pay Hua’s bail in order to get his client released from prison. City officials then told Wen he could no longer communicate with foreign media, according to the AP.
The US called for the activists’ release on Monday with Alicia Edwards, a US State Department spokeswoman, saying: “We urge China to release them immediately and otherwise afford them the judicial and fair trial protections to which they are entitled.”
However, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Tuesday that the men had used “illegal recording devices” that interfered with the factory’s ability to function. Hua reiterated that because the men were arrested on Chinese soil, they had to abide by China’s laws.
“Other nations have no right to interfere in our judicial sovereignty and independence,” she stated.
China Labor Watch executive director Li Qiang insists that the activists are innocent and that the recording equipment they used was perfectly legal. Li lost contact with his workers last month, but he hasn’t given up hope on getting them back.
The BBC notes that China has a history of cracking down on labor rights groups, and that many campaigners have been arrested over the past few years. But Ivanka’s ties to the Huajian Group factories make this case politically charged for both China and the US. Last year, it was reported that Huajian had manufactured 100,000 pairs of shoes for the Ivanka Trump collection.
In April, Li wrote a letter to Ivanka asking her to help change the conditions in factories that supply her brand with shoes, urging that “Your words and deeds can make a difference in these workers’ lives.”
Ivanka and her company have yet to comment on the arrests, while Huajian has denied any involvement with her brand, claiming that they stopped supplying months ago.
By Caroline Roy
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