China Broadens Investigation Into 5 Detained Women Activists

By Sui-Lee Wee

BEIJING, April 8 (Reuters) - Chinese police are broadening their investigation into five detained women activists to focus on their campaigns against domestic violence and for more public toilets for women, their lawyers said on Wednesday.

The women were taken into custody on the weekend of International Women's Day, March 8, and later detained on suspicion of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," their lawyers said, a charge that carries jail of up to five years.

Supporters of the five - Li Tingting, 25, Wei Tingting, 26, Wang Man, 32, Zheng Churan, 25, and Wu Rongrong, 30 - initially assumed they were picked up because of their plans to demonstrate against sexual harassment on buses and trains.

But Wang Qiushi, the lawyer for Li Tingting, said the focus of the investigation was centered on a 2012 campaign to press for more public toilets for women and a 2013-14 campaign against domestic violence.

"The initial reason for taking them away was the anti-sexual harassment bus activity on March 7, but it looks like slapping them now with a criminal charge for that is obviously very difficult," Wang said.

The 2012 "Occupy Men's Room" campaign led to four cities pledging to increase the ratio of toilet cubicles for women, the state-run China Daily reported.

The "Bloodstained Bride" campaign of 2013-2014 involved women posing in blood-splattered wedding gowns to draw attention to violence.

Lu Jun, co-founder of a group that campaigns against discrimination against women, said men identifying themselves as Beijing police had gone to various cities to look for women who participated in an "Occupy Men's Rooms" campaign.

Beijing police did not respond to a request for comment.

The United States, Britain and the European Union have condemned the detentions, prompting China to call on other countries to respect its judicial sovereignty.

Asked whether the government was concerned about further international censure if the women are formally charged, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: "I don't think there is any reason to be unhappy about China handling the relevant case in accordance with the law."

Prosecutors will decide within days whether the women should be formally arrested or released, the lawyers said.

Prosecutors in Beijing's Haidian district, which has jurisdiction over the women's cases, said they have not received their cases from police, according to Liang Xiaojun, a lawyer for Wu Rongrong. A woman surnamed Wang from the Haidian prosecutor's office declined comment, saying "their cases have not reached us." (Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel and Jeremy Laurence)