Retired workers’ representative Ren Fengyu was sentenced on 9 September after putting up a poster calling for the legalization of a Tonghua workers’ rights organization and the formal election of its representatives, China Workers Research (中国工人研究) reported on 18 October.
China Workers Research suggested that Ren’s detention was the “settling of accounts” (秋后算帐) after the death on 24 July of steel company executive Chen Guojun at the hands of angry workers protesting the takeover of Tonghua Steel by Chen’s company Jianlong Heavy Machinery.
It pointed out that retired workers had been organizing rights activities ever since Jianlong first took a minority stake in Tonghua in 2005 and that there were already nearly 100 representatives actively involved. It was only after Chen’s death that the authorities started to crackdown on their activities.
The CWR report coincided with the official media’s announcement that the “chief suspect” in the death of Chen Guojun had been detained by the local police. Xinhua reported that Tonghua employee, Ji Yigang, 50, was apprehended on 16 October and had confessed to the crime, and that five other suspects had also surrendered to the police.
Police said Ji had a criminal record. In 1978, he was sentenced to three years reeducation through labour for theft, and in 1982 was sentenced by a Tonghua court to seven years imprisonment for robbery.
CWR claimed that on the same day that Ji was detained, a total of nine Tonghua workers were detained for investigation and that at the time of its report, none had been released.
The detention of the Tonghua workers comes just a week after a court in Shaoguan sentenced a worker to death for his part in the mass brawl between ethnic Han and Uighur workers at a toy factory there in June that left two people dead, and courts in Xinjiang handed down a range of harsh sentences to those involved in the subsequent riots in Urumchi in which around 200 people died.