Sophia Huang Xueqin is an independent investigative journalist and a leading women’s rights activist in China who came to prominence for her role in pioneering the #MeToo movement in the nation.
Before beginning her freelancing career, Huang had worked in several news agencies and newspapers in China, according to Chinese news website DW.
Surveilled, detained, abducted, but never controlled – Sophia Huang had fearlessly navigated through China’s continuous crackdown on independent media.
However, Huang has gone missing from the radar since 19 September – with her friends taking to social media and pointing that they are unable to trace her.
'Unable to Establish Contact, Worried'
Huang and labor rights campaigner Wang Jianbing have reportedly lost contact with their friends, raising alarms of the pair’s supposed detention.
Her friend Robert Cheng said he and others have been unable to get in touch with them since 19 September 2021, as reported by South China Morning Post.
Cheng said that Huang, along with Wang, had been planning to leave Guangzhou for Shenzen. She had booked a flight from Hong Kong to London on 20 September.
“Both Huang and Wang have not been contactable since Sunday afternoon and we are worried that they may have been detained,” he said.
Huang received a Chevening Scholarship funded by the British government to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Sussex.
"“The Chevening Scholarship requires her to return to China after completing the programme, and Huang has never wanted to leave China or emigrate,” said Cheng. “She always wants to live and do her work in China.”" - South China Morning Post
Cheng was concerned that similar to other activists, Huang and Wang could be accused of inciting subversion. "Under the [subversion] charge, they may face heavy punishment and torture,” he said.
“Huang Xueqin only wanted to go to Sussex to study and was told by the authorities last month that they would not stop her [leaving China]. She had her passport and visa.
“So, she had actually kept a low profile for months hoping she could make the trip.”
Huang's Role In #MeToo Movement
In October 2017, Huang conducted a survey on female journalists in China revealing their experiences of sexual harassment in the industry.
Based on the survey, a Sexual Harassment Report on Chinese Women Journalists was released in March, 2018. According to the report, over 80 percent of women were sexually harassed, and more than 42.2 percent were sexually harassed more than once.
Dr Luo Xixi of Beihang University – a sexual harassment survivor – anonymously informed the university that her former PhD advisor Chen Xiaowu, a “Changjiang Scholar” harassed his students for years. Failing to receive a response from the university, she sought Huang’s help according to The Washington Post.
They together exposed Xiaowu and his “Changjiang Scholar” title was rescinded. This set the tone of #MeToo movement in China.
She had assisted the investigation and reporting of many high-profile sexual harassment allegations. Huang had been at the forefront of numerous campaigns conducted under the movement.
Hong Kong Protests and Huang's Detention
In June 2019, a protest was staged in Hong Kong against a proposed extradition bill that allowed Chinese government to try suspected criminals under its largely opaque legal system. Critics feared suspension of judicial freedom and suppression of dissent, said a BBC report.
Huang’s participation and reporting of the protests led to her detention in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou. She was charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, reported Reuters. The offense is strictly punishable in China, and is thus commonly used by Beijing to silence journalists, activists, academics, and lawyers.
Huang's detention was an explicit retaliation to her coverage of the Hong Kong protests and gender-based discrimination in China.
China continues tightening its grip on news and information, with an increased surveillance and detention of journalists. It ranked 177 in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, just ahead of Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
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