China: Ms Ye Haiyan, defender of children & women’s rights, defends herself and is detained following assault

June 1, 2013

On 30 May 2013, human rights defender Ms Ye Haiyan was detained by police after being assaulted at her home in Guangxi province, China. Ye Haiyan is an advocate for the rights of sex workers and people living with HIV/AIDS. She has been consistently targeted over the past number of years because of her work.Frontline NEWlogo-2 full version - cropped

Just before 12pm on 30 May 2013, a group of plainclothes women arrived at Ye Haiyan’s home  and began to physically attack her. Ye Haiyan was alone with her 13-year-old daughter at the time and managed to send out a series of messages on Twitter appealing for help and asking her followers to report the incident to the police. In a subsequent message she wrote that the police had not shown up and that she thought the attackers must have been sent by the local government. In an effort to defend herself and her daughter she used a knife to drive her attackers away, reportedly injuring three of them in the process. Shortly thereafter she was taken into custody by police and is being detained on suspicion of ‘causing intentional injury’.

It is believed that the attack on Ye Haiyan was an attempt to silence her following the recent launch of an online campaign protesting a number of cases of child abuse, and which quickly gained huge public support. Ye Haiyan had recently returned from Hainan province where she had protested outside a school whose principal had taken six primary schoolgirls to a hotel room and, along with a local government official, reportedly abused them over a two-day period. The two have since been arrested, though local authorities were accused of seeking to minimise the incident. Ye Haiyan stood outside the school concerned with a placard saying, “Principal, get a room with me and leave the schoolchildren alone”. News of her protest spread rapidly online and inspired hundreds of other internet users to post pictures of themselves with similar placards.

Ye Haiyan has long been a staunch defender of women’s rights and the rights of sex workers. In 2005 she began a website to advocate on behalf of sex workers and the following year she established a Women’s Rights Centre in Wuhan province. In 2010 she organised a protest calling for an end to discrimination against sex workers and around this time she also began to be regularly questioned by police. In 2011 she set up a new NGO in Guangxi and in January 2012 she worked as a prostitute for a day and blogged about it afterwards in order to highlight the difficulties that sex workers face. In May of last year her NGO office in Guangxi was raided by eight plainclothes men who also reportedly attacked her. The human rights defender said after the attack that she presumed the men had been sent by the local government.

Front Line Defenders believes that this most recent attack on Ye Haiyan was prompted by her peaceful and legitimate work in defence of human rights, particularly her actions taken to highlight cases of child abuse in China. It is felt that her current detention is a denial of her right to self-defence as enshrined by international law, as well as Article 20 of the Criminal Procedure Law of China which states that “If a person acts in defence against an ongoing assault…that seriously endangers his personal safety, thus causing injury or death to the perpetrator of the unlawful act, it is not undue defence, and he shall not bear criminal responsibility.”

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