Court Ruling Deals A Blow To China’s Faltering #MeToo Movement


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Zhou Xiaoxuan speaks to journalists and supporters on Sept. 14 outside the Haidian District People’s Court in Beijing before a hearing in her case. She alleged that she was groped and forcibly kissed by prominent TV anchor Zhu Jun, who denies the allegations and has countersued for defamation. The court ruled there was not sufficient evidence of sexual harassment.

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Despite these high-profile cases, China’s #MeToo movement has snagged after authorities began censoring online discussion of cases and detaining and questioning activists who have tried to publicize new accusations. Zhou has been banned from posting on Weibo, the Chinese social media site, for a year, and even reshares of her posts have been deleted by cybersecurity authorities.

Many women on social media have said that women are discouraged from reporting harassment and rape because of the threat of retaliation from an alleged assailant and tepid legal support for those who come forward. For example, police released the fired Alibaba manager after just over two weeks, saying his arrest was not authorized, and they could find no evidence of criminal behavior.

An August report from Yale Law School researchers found only 83 lawsuits concerning sexual harassment were filed in China between 2018-2020 in the public law enforcement database. Of those 83 cases, just six were brought by victims against a harasser. The remainder were filed by the accused harassers for damages against the alleged victim or their former employee for wrongful termination.

Zhou, who herself has been embroiled in the defamation lawsuit filed by Zhu, the TV anchor, could not be reached for comment.

«When an alleged harasser countersues, the burden of proof in those cases is often reversed, so in a defamation suit, it is often the defendant who bears the burden of proof to show the alleged behavior took place,» says Darius Longarino, a researcher at the Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai Center. That means Zhou must be the one to prove whether an incident of sexual harassment occurred, not the plaintiff filing a countersuit against the alleged victim.

In Zhou’s case, numerous delays preceded the ruling. Zhou’s case against Zhu had been waiting nearly two years to conclude. The court abruptly canceled a hearing on the day it was to take place in May with no public explanation. The court had also blocked her lawyers when they tried to have the case tried on the new 2020 provisions specifically citing sexual harassment as cause for a lawsuit. Instead, they tried Zhu for a «personality rights dispute.»

In a essay published on social media and chat groups, Zhou said the court blocked her repeated efforts to retrieve video footage evidence and to summon witnesses and a testifying expert.

At Zhou’s Beijing court hearing this week, plainclothes police hovered alongside dozens of supporters, who gathered despite the intimidation. They held signs saying «stand together» in Chinese as security officials yelled at them to disperse for «pandemic control.» Beijing currently has zero cases of infections.

After a nearly 10-hour hearing, the court immediately came to a verdict: «The court believes that Ms. Zhou has not provided sufficient evidence to prove Mr. Zhu committed sexual harassment,» the Beijing Haidian district court said in a statement. Chinese courts usually take up to a month to decide complex cases like Zhou’s after hearing arguments and almost never issue a judgement immediately after hearings conclude.

Zhu did not show up to the hearing.

  • Zhou Xiaoxuan
  • #metoo
  • sexual assault
  • sexual harassment
  • China

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