Beijing court rules against woman in Chinese #MeToo case

14 September 2021, 17:54

Zhou Xiaoxuan
China MeToo. Picture: PA

Zhou Xiaoxuan had become the face of the movement in China.

A Beijing court has ruled against a Chinese woman in a #MeToo case that took three years to reach a conclusion.

The Haidian People’s Court judgment stated that Zhou Xiaoxuan, who had become the face of the country’s #MeToo movement, did not meet the burden of proof in claiming that her boss Zhu Jun sexually harassed her.

In 2018, Ms Zhou, a former intern at Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, went public with accusations against Mr Zhu, a prominent CCTV host, as dozens of women began to speak out about their past experiences of being harassed or assaulted.

Zhou Xiaoxuan
Ms Zhou speaks outside court (AP)

Since then, the #MeToo movement has been largely shut down by authorities as activists found their online posts censored and faced pressure from authorities when trying to hold protests, but Ms Zhou has continued to speak out.

She said outside court: “I’m very thankful for everyone, whether we win or lose, I’m very honoured to have experienced these last three years.”

Ms Zhou was jostled by unidentified men and women as she spoke to reporters outside the court.

One woman cited “pandemic safety”, as she tried to prevent Ms Zhou from speaking, while a man questioned whether it was appropriate for her to speak alone.

Zhou Xiaoxuan
Ms Zhou is accosted by hostile bystanders outside a courthouse in Beijing (AP)

A woman who tried to hold up a sign saying “Standing Together” was quickly surrounded by police and had the sign ripped out of her hand. She said later that police then asked for her national identification number.

Ms Zhou brought the suit against Mr Zhu to counter one he had already lodged against her. She accused him of groping and forcibly kissing her in 2014, and asked for a public apology as well as 50,000 yuan (£5,500) in damages. Mr Zhu has denied the claims.

A series of sexual assault and rape accusations in recent weeks has drawn national attention. The most prominent was an accusation of sexual assault made by an Alibaba employee against two men.

Zhou Xiaoxuan
Ms Zhou, a former intern at China’s state broadcaster CCTV, first made the allegations in 2018 (AP)

Chinese-Canadian singer Kris Wu was also arrested in Beijing on suspicion of rape over accusations made online.

In August, accusations posted online by victims led to the detention of a maths teacher on charges of forcible molestation and the sacking of a popular TV host at Hunan Television.

Shanghai police, who initially declined to press charges in the latter case, have said they have reopened the investigation.

“These incidents are a part of #MeToo, without a doubt,” said Lu Pin, the founder of Feminist Voices, an online publication that was shut down by censors in 2018.

“Without #MeToo, it’s impossible to imagine these types of things coming out.”

Zhou Xiaoxuan's supporters
Supporters gather near the courthouse (AP)

After the #MeToo movement swept China, authorities responded with legal changes that activists and legal experts say have not yet led to real change on the ground. They defined sexual harassment in the country’s civil code, a massive effort approved in 2020 that organized civil laws and promised certain rights to citizens.

Still, victims of sexual violence face legal and social obstacles to seeking justice.

In a recent report, experts found only 83 civil cases in public databases that related to sexual harassment or molestation between 2018 and 2020.

Of the 83 cases, 77 were brought by the alleged harasser against companies or the victim. Just six cases were brought by victims against a harasser.

A protester is accosted
A protester has a sign torn away (AP)

Throughout her case, Ms Zhou has pushed to make the court hearing a matter of public record and requested the court order Mr Zhu Jun to appear, citing basic legal procedures.

When she filed the suit in 2018, such complaints were treated as labour disputes or under other laws that did not relate directly to sexual harassment. Ms Zhou’s was termed a “personality rights dispute”.

The court rejected a request by her lawyers to have her case heard under a legal provision enacted after she filed the suit that explicitly cites sexual harassment.

“I believe that justice in these basic procedures is a necessary path to take to get a fair result, and all the efforts we made before the hearing are not just for victory, but for a fundamental fairness,” Ms Zhou wrote on her WeChat social media account on Monday.

By Press Association