Chinese #MeToo Activist Huang sentenced to five years in prison

Journalist Huang Xueqin and labor activist Wang Jianbing have been sentenced to prison terms for inciting state power subversion, despite their significant contributions to China's #MeToo movement.

Chinese #MeToo Activist Huang sentenced to five years in prison
Photo Source: Woman holding paper with me too sign written, by Mihai Surdu, via Unsplash 2017 October 17


Marina Sáenz

Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence


In a disheartening blow to civil society in China, the Guangzhou Intermediate Court has sentenced renowned journalist Sophia Huang Xueqin to five years in prison and labour activist Wang Jianbing to three and a half years for “inciting subversion of state power.” Both activists have been pivotal in advocating for human rights, with Huang emerging as a leading voice in China's #MeToo movement and Wang providing crucial legal support to marginalised communities, including people with disabilities and workers suffering from occupational diseases.

The sentencing of Huang and Wang highlights the broader context of increasing scrutiny and control over civil society activities in China. Over recent years, the Chinese government has tightened its grip on activists and human rights defenders, aiming to curb any actions deemed as threats to state power. The #MeToo movement, which gained global traction in 2017, encountered unique challenges in China due to state censorship and societal norms. Despite these barriers, Huang Xueqin played a pivotal role in the movement, notably helping to expose the country’s first #MeToo case in 2018. She amplified the voices of survivors, conducted surveys revealing that 84% of 416 female journalists had experienced workplace sexual harassment, and bravely shared her own experiences of harassment. Wang Jianbing has been equally instrumental, providing legal support to people with disabilities and workers suffering from occupational diseases, and advocating for human rights through his participation in weekly activist gatherings and online human rights education. While authorities have not disclosed specific charges, followers of the activists believe their conviction is linked to their participation in these activist activities and online posts discussing sensitive issues deemed provocative by the Chinese government.

The sentencing of Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing raises serious concerns under international human rights law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media (Article 19). Similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which China is a signatory, protects the rights to freedom of expression (Article 19) and peaceful assembly (Article 21). The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, in 2022, found Wang's detention to be arbitrary and has repeatedly called on China to repeal or align the crime of "inciting subversion" with international standards. Furthermore, allegations of ill-treatment faced by Huang Xueqin while in detention, as reported by her supporters, are deeply concerning from a human rights perspective. International human rights law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention against Torture, unequivocally prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The reported ill-treatment of Huang underscores the importance of upholding these fundamental rights, ensuring that individuals in detention are treated with dignity and respect for their inherent human rights. States have an obligation to promptly and impartially investigate such allegations, hold perpetrators accountable, and provide effective remedies to victims.

In the face of escalating repression against activists like Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing in China, their sentencing underscores a critical moment for human rights defenders worldwide. Their unwavering commitment to justice and equality, despite facing significant personal risks, reflects a global struggle for freedom of expression and the protection of fundamental rights. The international community must continue to monitor their cases closely, advocate for their fair treatment and release, and uphold the principles enshrined in international human rights law. The stories of Huang and Wang serve as poignant reminders of the resilience and courage of those who challenge injustice, even amid adversity.


Sources and further readings:

UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. (1 December 2022). AL CHN 10/2022.,right%20to%20a%20fair%20trial%20%28WGAD%20Opinion%202022%2F9%29.

Yuanye Dang (14 June 2024). Prominent Chinese activists sentenced to up to 5 years on charges of ‘inciting subversion’. The South China Morning Post.