New York Times: As Xi Leads Summit at the U.N., Images of Detained Chinese Women Stare From Across the Street

The New York Times
By Jane Perlez

September 27, 2015

A close-up of the Chinese journalist Gao Yu shows a pensive, determined face framed by cropped hair. The face looks out from the glass lobby of the United States Mission to the United Nations, along with images of 19 other women whose images are styled like mug shots: They are all women who are or have been imprisoned for dissent.

Across the street at the United Nations headquarters on Sunday morning, President Xi Jinping of China led a summit of world leaders to mark the anniversary of a conference on women’s rights in Beijing 20 years ago.

The Chinese government planned Mr. Xi’s prominent role to show that he is committed to the empowerment of Chinese women. The ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, thinks otherwise.

Gao Yu, 71, a Chinese journalist jailed for seven years, is one
of 20 women whose photos appear at the United States
Mission to the United Nations, in a campaign to highlight the
cause of imprisoned women activists around the world. Credit
Jane Perlez

Ms. Power has been the force behind the display of photographs, called #FreeThe20, and a video on Twitter shows her unveiling the 20 images by putting up the first one nearly three weeks ago. She was present when Mr. Xi addressed the summit, but unlike the scores of international leaders at the event, including Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President François Hollande of France, she did not speak.

President Obama did not attend the session, a decision by the administration to signal its distaste for the idea of Mr. Xi celebrating women’s progress in China amid a sweeping crackdown on dissent, including the arrest of female activists.

Ms. Gao, 71, was arrested last year and sentenced to seven years in prison for disclosing to an overseas news media group a Communist Party document that described the party’s plans to combat political dissent. (She is banned from writing for the Chinese news media). The document was hardly a major secret: It had already been reported on government websites.

Long admired for her determined challenges to the party’s political power, Ms. Gao will be nearly 80 if she serves her full sentence.

The 20 detained women are from 13 countries, and two others are Chinese. Liu Xia, the wife of China’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo, was taken into custody in 2010 and placed under house arrest after her husband, who is serving a long prison sentence, won the prize.

Friends of Ms. Liu say she suffers from severe depression and lives in what amounts to solitary confinement in her Beijing apartment, without a telephone or access to the Internet.

Also on the glass wall is Wang Yu, 44, a lawyer, and a defender of some of the most vigorous critics of the Chinese government.

Her latest case involved the newest frontier in women’s rights in China: sexual harassment. Five women were detained in March as they distributed pamphlets and signs for a public awareness campaign against sexual harassment on public transportation. Ms. Wang represented the “Five Feminists” and they were released a month later.

But in July, Ms. Wang was detained along with her husband and their 16-year-old son. The state news media called her law firm “a major criminal gang,” and when more than 150 Chinese lawyers signed a petition calling for Ms. Wang’s release, many of them were detained, too. Most have since been released.

Ms. Wang has often expressed defiance and confidence. Before her arrest, she said: “I believe that during this time of enlightenment and rapid development of the Internet any shameful attempt to smear me is doomed to fail.”

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