Authorities in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen have formally arrested at least three labor activists on public order charges amid a wider crackdown on workers' organizations, a Hong Kong-based group said on Wednesday.
Wu Guijun, Zhang Zhiru, and He Yuancheng were initially detained in a coordinated police raid on Jan. 20 on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," a charge commonly used to target rights activists in China.
Their families were informed of their formal arrests on Tuesday and Wednesday, the China Labour Bulletin (CLB) said in a report on its website.
"They are being held in a Shenzhen detention center and are understood to be in reasonable health," CLB said.
However, they have been warned not to use lawyers found for them by their families, and their families are under huge pressure not to discuss the case with the media, it said.
It is likely that fellow activists Jian Hui and Song Jiahui, who were detained at the same time, have also been formally arrested on the same charge, CLB said.
The arrests come amid an ever-widening crackdown on grassroots labor movements in Chinese factories.
Activists in Hong Kong have called for the release of more than 30 former workers at the Jasic Technology factory in neighboring Guangdong province and members of the Jasic Workers' Solidarity Group (JWSG), who were supporting them.
At least 44 labor activists, students, and recent graduates of China's top universities have been "disappeared" or criminally detained since the nationwide crackdown on the Jasic labor movement, which started in July and continued with further waves of arrests and detentions in August, September, November, and January, the JWSG reported on its Github page.
Among the "disappeared" are Sun Yat-sen University graduate and Jasic movement spokeswoman Shen Mengyu and Peking University #MeToo campaigner Yue Xin.
Most recently, Renmin University student Chen Kexin and recent graduate Wu Jiawei disappeared in Wuhan on Feb. 17.
Chen Kexin was being held under house arrest at his home, where he had begun a hunger strike in protest at his detention, JWSG said at the time.
"The authorities are clearly nervous about the ability of labour activists to organize workers who are already struggling to make a living and increasingly angry at the gross social inequality they see around them every day," CLB said in its report.
It said Wu and Zhang are possibly the two most prominent and effective labor activists in Shenzhen over the last five years.
Wu Guijun organized workers at Hong Kong-owned furniture maker Diweixin in Shenzhen in protest at the company’s refusal to discuss compensation for the planned closure and relocation of the factory in 2013.
He was later detained for more than a year before being released without charge in June 2014. He continued to work on behalf of workers, helping them to claim social security and other benefits owed to them, CLB said.
Zhang founded the Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service Center in 2007, helping to guide thousands of workers through collective bargaining with their employers, work that won praise from state media at the time. Jian Hui was also involved in this organization.
Song Jiahui is a former worker at the Lide Shoe factory in Guangzhou, where he was a labor representative in a strike that was ultimately successful, according to CLB.
Reported by Shi Shan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.