Zhao Dongmin was arrested on 19 August last year after organizing more than 380 workers from about 20 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to form a labour rights group tasked with overseeing and monitoring SOE restructuring, and reporting corruption and abuses of power.
The Shaanxi Union Rights Defence Representative Congress was formally banned by the municipal government of Xi’an on 27 July, after which Zhao wrote an open letter protesting the action to the State Council, the municipal, provincial and central committees of the Chinese Communist Party. He was arrested 18 days later.
Since his arrest, Zhao’s case has been taken up by an increasingly vocal group of supporters, many of whom share his leftist political views. Zhao was the head of the Shaanxi Mao Zedong Thought Study Group, one of several Maoist groups in China that seek the restoration of a more egalitarian, fair and just society.
More than 50 scholars signed a petition this month stating that Zhao was not only innocent but had performed meritorious service (无罪有功) and that his arrest mocked the rule of law and insulted trade union organizers.
Zhao’s three year sentence is on the upper-end of the scale for labour activists. Unlike a decade ago when five or ten year sentences were not uncommon, the authorities nowadays tend to use threats, harassment and short-term detention rather than criminal trials and prison terms to suppress labour groups and activists. It is perhaps Zhao’s Maoist allegiances therefore that led to his relatively heavy sentence on this occasion.