China’s #MeToo figurehead loses appeal in sexual harassment case against star host

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A Chinese court on Wednesday dismissed an appeal by a former state television intern against the dismissal of her landmark #MeToo case accusing a star presenter of sexual harassment.

Zhou Xiaoxuan, better known as Xianzi in China, became the face of the country’s #MeToo movement in 2018, when she publicly accused CCTV host Zhu Jun of forcibly groping and kissing her in a lodge four years earlier when she was 21. -former intern working on his show.

Zhu, who was 50 at the time of the alleged incident, denied the charge and sued Zhou for defamation. She then fought back, sparking a years-long legal battle that coincided with a broader repression by the ruling Chinese Communist Party on feminist activism and the online discussion of women’s rights.

Last September, a court in Beijing ruled against Zhou, citing “insufficient evidence”. In response, she accused the court of failing to ensure procedural fairness. Zhou said the judge refused his repeated requests to retrieve corroborating evidence, such as footage from security cameras outside the locker room.

On Wednesday, the Beijing Municipal Intermediate People’s Court No. 1 rejected his appeal on similar grounds.

“The court found that the evidence presented by appellant Zhou was not sufficient to prove that Zhu sexually harassed her, and the appeal could not be substantiated,” the court said on its official Weibo account. .

Zhou Xiaoxuan is greeted by a small group of supporters on Wednesday before returning to court for a hearing in her sexual harassment case against TV host Zhu Jun.

Chinese media initially covered Zhou’s case following her 2018 allegations and she gained widespread support on social media, amassing more than 300,000 followers on microblogging site Weibo.

In recent years, however, young Chinese feminists have faced increasingly strict censorship and misogynistic attacks from state actors and nationalist trolls.

Zhou’s Weibo account has been blocked since last year, as have the accounts of many of his followers.

Online trolls have accused Zhou of lying and “colluding with foreign forces” – a common Communist Party phrase often used by nationalists to denounce anyone from dissidents and academics to health experts opposed to the zero Covid policy of the country.

Outside the courthouse on Wednesday, plainclothes police and security guards cordoned off the sidewalks to prevent Zhou supporters from gathering, with officers recording the national ID numbers of passers-by.

A small group of supporters managed to greet Zhou at a nearby playground, handing him bouquets and holding up signs of encouragement. One said, “History and we the people are on your side, Xianzi!”

Others showed their solidarity online. Many shared a seven-minute video Zhou recorded on Tuesday, in which she urged supporters not to get discouraged.

“Setting up a fight itself is meaningful. It will have a greater impact on society,” she said. “I have never regretted stepping forward and enduring all of this. I hope you all share my belief that every effort is meaningful.

But conversations about the case were heavily censored.

On Weibo, some posts about Zhou’s hearing were blocked, and Liang Xiaomen, a Chinese feminist and public interest lawyer in New York, said her WeChat account was permanently banned on Tuesday after sharing information about the case and expressed support for Zhou.

“Many voices supporting Xianzi have been banned online, while its critics and trolls are more active than ever,” Liang said. “Many of his followers are very anxious – (our online community) has been shattered and we have no place to come together and form a united voice.”

When Zhou took the case to court in 2018, she sued Zhu for violating “personality rights” because China failed to specify sexual harassment as a legal offense.

Last year, China enacted a civil code defining sexual harassment for the first time in the country’s law.

The code states that an individual can bring a civil action against someone who engages in sexual harassment against them “in the form of verbal remarks, written language, images, physical behavior or otherwise”, against their will. .

Despite the introduction of the code, Liang said Zhou’s case illustrates how survivors of gender-based violence in China can still face grueling legal battles. “This case is a bloody testament to how China’s justice system views a victim of sexual harassment and those willing to come forward and take legal action,” she said.

Legal experts who have studied sexual harassment cases in China say victims face almost insurmountable risks because courts give little credence to testimonies and always look for “leaky” evidence.

“If I didn’t start the trial myself, I may never know what kind of injustice other victims of sexual abuse would suffer after entering the [judicial] system,” Zhou said in his video to supporters. “We are always in an environment where we have to sacrifice our feelings, sacrifice our pain in exchange for understanding.”

Walking out of court after Wednesday night’s hearing, Zhou told her supporters it was probably the last legal push she could make in the case.

“After the hearing, the judge told me that since I called the police in 2014, eight years have passed and that I should have my own life plan. But what I mean is that my life plan is to dedicate myself to this business and hope for a good result. Now I can no longer pursue this plan,” she said.

“The judicial system has no innate authority, and the judgment of the court is not inherently the truth…I hope that the next litigant who comes to this courtroom will gain understanding from others. ”

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