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Disabled Labor Activist Stabbed in China

December 20, 2007  |  Share

Who did the Worker Center Cross?  Huang Qingnan Suffers Serious Injury in Attack

Story by Fu Ke, from the Southern Metropolis Daily
  • A citizen worker organization publicizes the China's new labor contract law to much acclaim from workers, but suffers two attacks from unidentified persons smashing their office and seriously injuring the organization's leader with a knife.
  • Four Hong Kong NGO groups release a letter of protest that severely condemns the illegal violence and appeals to related government departments in Shenzhen to severely punish the offenders.  

The full story

A Shenzhen worker organization that received financial support from citizens' groups in Hong Kong suffered two attacks recently.  One attack destroyed the organization office; the other left the organization's leader severely injured with multiple knife wounds.  People connected with the organization remark that they were recently publicizing China's new labor contract law which is about to go into effect.  The organization's publicity efforts were appreciated by the workers, but perhaps had a negative impact on the interests of certain groups who used dark methods to shut the organization down.  

"Production workers generally do not understand the new law. We worked to publicize it.  Because of this, we probably were working against certain peoples' interests." 

--Worker Center staffer, Luo Chunli

"I personally have not had any run-ins with anyone, nor have I done anything inappropriate. As a handicapped person, I was probably beaten because someone was afraid of our Center's influence.  They used violence to keep our doors closed."

--Worker Center leader, Huang Qingnan

"This wasn't just an incident of public disorder, but an action taken by groups with vested interests who openly violate policies from the central government and who used violent methods to violate workers' rights." 

     -- United letter of condemnation written by Four Hong Kong NGO's

A labor organization without an official name

There is no gold-lettered signboard.  Looking in the front window, you can only see a few dust-covered hard-hats.  This unimposing small doorway really stands out from the commercial shops nearby.  Located in Longdong neighborhood of the Shenzhen's Longgang district, this unusually low-key worker center has been in Longgang for a full seven years.   

In terms of industrial and commercial registration, this office is classified as a store.  But when the storefront's metal door is folded open, you will see book shelves stuffed with over 1000 books and every kind of law-related informational leaflet.  There is a computer on the side of the office that can be used for going on the internet.  Usually, the workers nearby can enter the office freely, read the books and go on the internet free of charge.  On the weekends, the shop is overflowing with people.  Using a formula provided by the center, workers come every month to calculate whether or not their factories are paying them fairly.

The Workers' Center is an NGO with four staffers.  They mainly provide workers with legal assistance to help them protect their rights.  This non-profit organization has been in existence for seven years and relies mainly on a Hong Kong NGO for economic support.  According to the Center staff, they originally planned to register their organization as an NGO, but after making inquiries to a number of departments, they discovered that it would become difficult to obtain permission to register as an NGO.  Learning from the experiences of other "worker groups," they decided to work around the legal edges.    

On the bulletin board inside the storefront, the number "300" is posted in a noticeable place.  This number represents the number of workers who visited the Worker Center last month, either in person or via telephone.  The Center is able to provide workers with information about labor laws through books, internet, and verbal explanation.  They also work to help workers with legal troubles.  If workers run into any special difficulties, the Center staffers will personally work to help workers protect their rights.   

The "worker injury mutual aid group" was another service to emerge from the Worker Center.  The purpose of this group is mainly to help workers injured on the job claim money they are owed for medical fees and monetary compensation.  Luo Chunli, one of the only workers in the center with a bachelor's degree said, "Everything we do is good. We help workers claim the rights that belong to them.  Every action we take is reasonable, legal, and appropriate to the situation."     

The person who originally started the Worker Center is a disabled man named Huang Qingnan.  In 2000, he was severely burned while working in Shenzhen.  At that time, a Hong Kong NGO helped Huang Qingnan treat his injuries and fight for his rights.  After Huang's injuries had completely healed, the Hong Kong NGO immediately sent him funds to open the Worker Center in Shenzhen's Longgang District. On the one hand, the Worker Center gave Huang, who has lost his ability to work, a job, and it also helped fulfill his desire to show solidarity with ("to give back to") his fellow workers.  

According to our understanding of the situation, the Worker Center's financial situation was normal.  The Hong Kong NGO would send financial assistance and would travel to Shenzhen at irregular intervals to provide supervision and direction and to make sure that their funds were being used appropriately.  One member of the Hong Kong NGO, Ms. Chen, told us yesterday they think "that the worker center's financial situation was normal, and that its presence was enthusiastically received by workers nearby."

"We will make sure that you cannot open your storefront." 

Luo Chunli told our reporters that recently the Worker Center has spent a lot of energy publicizing the soon-to-be implemented new Labor Contract Law. This law will be effective in all factories and will have a direct impact on the interests of each and every worker.

"Workers on the assembly lines probably do not understand the new law.  We want to publicize and popularize the law," said Luo Chunli as she pulled out a small green leaflet. She told us, "we distribute these free leaflets. They list out all the main topics that the new law will be focusing on."
"Perhaps it was these pamphlets that were stepping on somebody's interests," Luo Chunli suggested.

On the evening of October 11 at around 7 p.m., as a Center staffer was tutoring a worker on how to use a computer, and some other workers were reading next to the bookshelf,  three young men carrying steel pipes rode up to the storefront on a moped.  The staffer told us that the men smashed all of the windows in the storefront with their pipes and then destroyed the storefront's metal door.  When they finished, the men swaggered off. One of the men used his pipe to point at the Center's interior as he stepped away.

The offenders did not say a single word while the vandalism was taking place, and no one was quite sure what to make of the incident.  The next day, the Center opened and operated normally, and Luo Chunli bought some new glass to replace the smashed panes.  On November 14 at 4 p.m., several pipe-wielding men showed up at the Center once again.  The Center did not have time to replace the glass, so the men unleashed their fury on the Center's office desk.  While they smashed the desk, one of the men called out, "I'm telling you not to open the office again." 

It was then that the Center began to understand the motivation behind the attacks.  "They came to attack our storefront.  They didn't want the Center to open," said Luo Chunli.  Luckily, the most valuable thing in the office, the computer, avoided harm in both attacks.

Recently, there have been other attacks in Dongguan and in other parts of Shenzhen where unidentified men have destroyed the offices of labor groups or harmed individuals working to protect others' rights.  Some think that with the implementation of the Labor Contract Law at hand, both laborers and management are nervous.  Laborers think that they will be able to use the law to win more rights.  Management fears that their ability to make profits will be crippled. 

Labor organizations that are determined to publicize the new law and help workers protect their rights have been drawn into the storm.  "Speaking frankly, businesses want to prevent us from publicizing the new law.  They are afraid that even more workers will start fighting for their legal rights." Luo Chunli explained. 

But even after the two door-smashing incidents, the doorless "Worker Center" insisted on remaining open.  On weekends, the Center staffers would travel out to give lectures in different districts, promoting knowledge of the Labor Contract Law and appealing for workers to learn how to protect their own rights.   

The Worker Center is Really Closed

On November 20 around 3 p.m., the Center leader, Huang Qingnan left the office and headed out to meet with a worker at a factory.  It was known that several days earlier a worker was beaten when he asked his boss for his wages.  Huang wanted to learn the seriousness of this worker's injuries.  As he walked through a small community gate, he ran into one of the injured worker's colleagues and stopped to chat.

At this very moment, several men carrying steel knives snuck up behind Huang and slashed at him viciously.  The disabled Huang fell down in a pool of blood.  The worker talking with Huang fought back at the attackers with bricks and a stool that he picked up off the ground.  He even chased them as they ran away, but they were picked up on mopeds and sped off.  

"When I arrived at the scene, this worker was elevating Huang Qingnan's leg.  He was afraid that Huang had lost too much blood," Said Luo Chunli. In fact, at the time, the ground was covered in blood.  Huang Qingnan's back and legs were covered in knife wounds.   "I had no idea they could act so ruthlessly toward a disabled man." Yesterday afternoon, Luo Chunli and another staffer were standing closely at Huang's bed side.  Both young women were holding tightly to his hands.              
Huang Qingnan now lies on a hospital bed in the Longgang District hospital.  His face, which was severely damaged in a fire, can be hard to look at straight on.  And this scarred disabled man is now covered with new injuries. His left leg was slashed so hard that his bone broke. His muscles suffer from necrosis. There are many more injuries on his back.  The doctor told us that when Huang was brought to the hospital, he had very little blood left.  Even after surgery, the appearance of necrosis and infection means that he may lose a leg if these problems are not fixed soon. 

After he entered the hospital, a steady stream of workers began filing in to visit Huang and give him support and encouragement.  These were all workers that Huang had helped in the past.  One confused doctor asked:  Who the heck is this guy here?  Why are there so many people to visit him?"

As this reporter left the hospital, one of Huang's colleagues sent a telegram hoping that the media would be able to appeal to people and help Huang Qingnan save his injured leg. "You guys help us think of something.  See if there are any kind people out there who are willing to help Brother Nan (Huang Qingnan), to help him get through this difficult time." 

The Center has already reported the two storefront attacks and the one assault to the police, and the police station has already sent out personnel to investigate.  But there have been no recent developments.

After Huang Qingnan's attack, the Worker Center that had insisted on staying open for so long was now closed. When this reporter arrived at the Center yesterday for an interview, the workers nearby, seeing that the Center door was now open, immediately came over to read books.  The worker information hotline was ringing nonstop. 

Four Hong Kong Groups Unite in Protest

Last Saturday, four Hong Kong NGO groups opened a news conference announcing to the media about the tragedy in Shenzhen.  Afterwards, the four organizations released a letter of condemnation, which conveyed both shocked and extreme anger about the incidents in Shenzhen.  At the same time, they also seriously condemned the illegal violent behavior.  The incident reflects that certain interest groups in Shenzhen brazenly resisted the national policy of protecting workers by targeting workers who are advocating for more rights.   

"This was not simply a public safety incident (i.e. random crime).  This district has certain interest groups who openly violate central government policies and used violent methods to encroach on workers' rights." The condemnatory letter also stated that the Hong Kong organizations also hope that the Shenzhen government will carry out its responsibility to protect the personal safety of its residents, will carry out a full investigation of this violent incident, and bring the violent offenders and the behind-the-scenes actors to justice.   They also called for the government to take concrete action to check the trend of violent attacks against labor activists.   

As the Shenzhen Worker Center's funder, Ms. Chen, who is in charge of one the four Hong Kong NGO, spoke to reporters yesterday, saying that in view of the serious violent incident that took place in Longgang, her organization may stop funding the Worker Center.  At the moment, the organization is using its own resources and is raising funds to help Huang Qingnan recover from his injuries.    

Yesterday, Huang Qingnan spoke with difficulty from the hospital bed about his own wishes.  He said, "I want the offenders found, and I also want the black hand acting from behind the curtain to be captured." Huang Qingnan said he does not have any personal problems or grudges with anyone, and has not acted improperly.  As a disabled person, he guesses the reason behind the attacks could only be that certain people feared the Worker Center's strength.   They attackers' purpose must have been to prevent the Center from continuing to operate.

Ms. Chen told us that she wishes related departments in Shenzhen would start to act.  She hopes they will capture both the violent offenders and their hidden director, and give confidence back to those people working for the public good.

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