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China’s leading #MeToo figure loses appeal in sexual harassment case against star TV host

China's leading #MeToo figure loses appeal in sexual harassment case against star TV host
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Zhou Xiaoxuan, better known as Xianzi in China, became the face of the country’s #MeToo movement in 2018, accusing CCTV anchor Zhu Jun of groping and forcibly kissing her in a dressing room four years ago when she was 21 years old. -old – old intern working on his show.

Zhu, who was 50 at the time of the alleged incident, denied the accusation and sued Zhou for defamation. It then sparked a years-long legal battle that coincided with that a wider push online discussion of feminist activism and women’s rights by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
In court in Beijing last September ruled against Zhou, referring to “sufficient evidence”. In response, he accused the court of not ensuring procedural justice. Zhou said the judge denied his repeated requests to obtain corroborating evidence, such as security camera footage outside the locker room.

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

The court’s official Weibo account said: “The court stated that the evidence provided by the complainant Zhou was insufficient to prove that Zhu had sexually assaulted her and that the complaint could not be substantiated.”

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

The crackdown on feminist activism

Chinese media first covered Zhou’s case after his claims in 2018, and he gained widespread support on social media, amassing more than 300,000 followers on the microblogging site Weibo.

However, in recent years, young Chinese feminists have faced increasingly harsh censorship and misogynist 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 supporters.

Online trolls have accused Zhou of lying and “collusion with foreign powers” – a phrase often used by the Communist Party to denounce everyone from dissidents and academics to health professionals who oppose the country’s zero-Covid policy.

Outside the courthouse on Wednesday, police and plainclothes security agents cordoned off sidewalks to prevent Zhou’s supporters from gathering, while officers recorded passersby’s national identity numbers.

The intern took on one of China's biggest TV stars in the #MeToo case.  He was defeated, but vowed to continue the fight

A small group of supporters managed to meet Zhou at a nearby playground, handing him bouquets and holding up encouraging signs. One of them reads: “History and we the people are on your side, Sianzi!”

Others showed their solidarity online. Many shared the seven-minute video Zhou filmed on Tuesday, in which he urged his supporters not to lose heart.

“It makes sense to fight. It will have a bigger impact on society,” he said. “I’ve never regretted stepping forward and carrying all of this. I hope that every effort is worthwhile.”

However, conversations related to this case were severely censored.

Some Weibo posts about Zhou’s hearing have been blocked, and Liang Xiaomen, a vocal Chinese feminist and public interest lawyer in New York, said her WeChat account was permanently banned on Tuesday after she shared information about the case and expressed support for Zhou.

“Many voices supporting Xianzi have been banned online, while his critics and trolls are as active as ever,” Liang said. “Many of his supporters are very concerned — (our online community) is broken and we don’t have a place to come together and create a unified voice.”

Legal difficulties

When Zhou took the case to court in 2018, China accused Zhu of violating “personal rights” because it did not make sexual assault a legal crime.

Last year, China passed a civil code that defines sexual harassment for the first time in the country’s law.

The Code states that a natural person can file a civil lawsuit against a person who sexually harasses them “verbally, in written language, image, physical behavior, or in any other form.”

Despite the implementation of the code, Liang said Zhou’s case demonstrates how survivors of gender-based violence in China can still face uphill legal battles. “This case is a bloody proof of how the Chinese judicial system treats the victim of sexual harassment and those who are willing to go to court,” he said.

Chinese feminists are silenced by nationalist trolls.  Some retreat

Legal experts who have studied sexual harassment cases in China said victims face almost insurmountable odds because courts place little credence in testimony and are always looking for evidence that “pulls the trigger.”

“If I hadn’t gone to court myself, I would never have known the injustices that other victims of sexual violence would face after going to court. [judicial] system,” Zhou said in a video to supporters. “We are still in an environment where we have to sacrifice our feelings, our pain for understanding.”

Zhou, who left court after Tuesday’s hearing, told supporters that this was likely his last legal effort in the case.

“After the hearing, the judge told me that it’s been 8 years since I went to the police in 2014 and I should have my own life plan. But what I mean is that my life plan is to dedicate myself to this work and I hope for a good outcome. Now I have that plan. I can’t go on,” he said.

“The judicial system has no inherent authority, and the judgment of the court is essentially the truth… I hope that the next litigant who comes to this courtroom will gain more understanding than others.”

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