Chinese reporter Sophia Huang Xueqin was arrested in the city of Guangzhou on October 17 after returning from a summer of covering the Hong Kong protests and charged with “making trouble and picking quarrels,” the Chinese Communist Party’s all-purpose charge for incarcerating inconvenient people.
A week after her arrest, Chinese officials remain vague about precisely what she did to warrant her arrest.
Huang, 30, has reportedly been monitored closely by Chinese agencies ever since she departed for a trip that included stops in the United States, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. She rose to fame in 2017 as a state media employee in the city of Guangzhou for disclosing sexual harassment perpetrated against her, becoming a pioneer of the #MeToo movement in China and a feminist activist.
Huang was hoping to study law at the University of Hong Kong but, when she returned to China in August, her travel documents were confiscated. Last week she was summoned to a meeting at the Guangzhou Public Security Bureau — according to some reports, they told her it was an opportunity to get her travel documents back — and placed under arrest. She was sent to the Baiyun District Detention Center, where she is not allowed to receive visits from friends or family.
Opinions vary about the true reason Huang was arrested, but one consistent thread in regional news reports is that almost everyone who knows her is nervous about speaking on the record.
The Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) speculated Beijing was angered by her posting on a Hong Kong website called Medium, where she described the protests as “resisting tyranny” and declared that ”tyranny may win power over the population, but cannot win power over human hearts.” Huang also wrote on Medium that her family was harassed by mainland police while she was in Hong Kong.
“Perhaps, under the powerful machine of the party state, ignorance and fear can be cultivated. But if you have personally experienced it, witnessed it, you cannot pretend to be ignorant,” Huang wrote in the essay that allegedly prompted the police to pay her family a visit.
Human Rights Watch researcher Yaqiu Wang, a friend of Huang’s, told the HKFP that Huang may face “harsh punishment” as part of the Chinese Communist Party’s effort to intimidate supporters of the Hong Kong protest movement and prevent it from spreading to China.
“Huang’s detention shows that the Chinese government has intensified the crackdown on mainland Chinese who peacefully showed solidarity with Hong Kong protesters, and that authorities are fearful that the protests in Hong Kong could inspire challenges to the government in the mainland, and any expression of ideas of freedom and democracy is a threat to their grip on power,” said Wang.
Others thought Huang’s feminist activism might have set the machinery of Chinese Communist oppression in motion. Quartz on Thursday recalled Huang giving interviews last year in which she talked about lingering official resentment against her #MeToo exposes, which included a much-discussed online survey that suggested sexual harassment is more widespread in China than the bureaucracy wanted to admit.