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Liaoyang Workers Negotiating for Release of Yao Fuxin

February 20, 2003

For Immediate Release

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned from reliable sources that worker representatives in the northeastern city of Liaoyang have begun negotiating with municipal authorities for the release of labor activists Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang, currently being held on subversion charges. At the same time, workers are planning large-scale protests to pressure authorities if negotiations fail.

Yao and Xiao were arrested last March after organizing demonstrations by more than ten thousand workers protesting alleged corruption and other abuses at the bankrupt Liaoyang Ferro-Alloy Factory. Although the two men went on trial on January 15, there has been no further news of a verdict or sentencing.

According to HRIC’s sources, 15 worker representatives had arranged to meet Liaoyang municipal officials on February 20 to negotiate two demands:

1) Release Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang;
2) Reach an acceptable solution to the problems of corruption and pay in arrears that sparked the original demonstrations.

Among the worker representatives negotiating with the government are leaders of the earlier mass demonstrations, including Wang Zhaoming, Pang Qingxiang, and Wang Dawei. Wang Zhaoming and Pang Qingxiang were originally arrested with Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang, but were released shortly before Yao and Xiao went on trial, and remain under constant surveillance by Public Security Bureau police.

The worker representatives had already undertaken informal discussions with the relevant officials, but the planned formal negotiation on February 20 was cancelled due to ongoing protests by workers of the Liaoyang Cement Plant. Like Ferro-Alloy workers, employees of the Liaoyang Cement Plant had been laid off with pay in arrears, and last year several hundred had staged protests and disrupted train services in pressing their demands for fair restitution. Under the tense atmosphere of the cement worker protests, Liaoyang municipal officials met only briefly with Ferro-Alloy representatives on February 20, postponing formal negotiation until a later date.

Ferro-Alloy representatives said that if officials fail to take concrete measures to meet worker demands, workers will once again take to the streets in mass protests, and applications will soon be submitted for the required assembly permits.

HRIC fully supports Ferro-Alloy workers’ demands for the release of Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang, and for resolution of their long-standing labor dispute. HRIC also welcomes Liaoyang officials’ apparent willingness to negotiate with workers for an equitable solution.

HRIC president Liu Qing observes, “China’s current economic policies are bound to result in an increasing number of instances where workers’ interests are abused, and major protests such as those by Liaoyang Ferro-Alloy and Liaoyang Cement are inevitable. Chinese authorities need to recognize the hardship workers are suffering, and take measures to solve the problem rather than trying to brush it away through suppression.”

HRIC hopes that negotiations between the workers and Liaoyang authorities will result in an acceptable resolution to outstanding issues. But should negotiations break down, HRIC urges the Liaoyang authorities to recognize peaceful worker protests as a legitimate means of expression in a modern society.

For more information, contact:
Stacy Mosher (English) 212-268-9074
Liu Qing (Chinese) 212-239-4495

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