In an unexpected move, China has released five women’s rights activists, who had been detained for more than a month on charges of “picking quarrels and causing trouble.”
The women were arrested during the weekend of March 8, 2015 – International Women’s Day – after planning to demonstrate against domestic violence.
They are known for holding distinctive protests, such as a 2012 campaign pressing for more public toilets for women.
International outcry over their detention put pressure on the authorities to order their release. But it comes with conditions attached as Liang Xiaojun, lawyer for campaigner Wu Rongrong, explained:
“If the police believe that they have broken the relevant regulations, then they can take the five of them back into a detention centre at any time,” he said. “Or they can arrest or even prosecute them. They are still ‘suspects’, with limited freedoms,” said a lawyer for the group.
The investigation into the women’s alleged crimes will remain open for a year.
Amnesty International has labelled the women’s release an “encouraging breakthrough”, but has called on China to put a permanent end to the investigation and exonerate the five.
Meanwhile, human rights activists say the release was spurred on by a desire by Beijing not to mar its reputation regarding women’s rights. This, they say, is particularly relevant now in the run up to the 20th anniversary of a key women’s rights summit in the capital.