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Chinese anger at humiliation of prostitutes

London Guardian | December 7, 2006
Jonathan Watts

A parade of prostitutes by police aimed at naming and shaming sex workers in southern China has sparked a backlash by an unusual coalition of lawyers, academics and the All-China Women's Federation.
As part of a two-month crackdown on vice in the booming city of Shenzhen, public security officers hauled about 100 women and some of their male customers through the streets on November 29.

Handcuffed and wearing bright yellow prison tunics, people in the parade attracted large crowds of curious onlookers.

Although the women tried to cover their faces with surgical masks, it was not enough to hide their identities because police revealed their names, hometowns and dates of birth while publicly sentencing them all to 15 days in prison.
In a sign of the increased consciousness of individual v social rights, police were criticised for going too far.

"I think the parade is a violation of human rights," said Ai Xiaoming, a professor at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong. "The public humiliation may frighten people, but it is not a good way to resolve problems. And it is not fair. Why are only sex criminals paraded in public? What about people guilty of graft and corruption?"

The All-China Women's Federation filed a formal protest to the ministry of public security, saying the parade was "old-fashioned", "damaging to social harmony", and "an insult to all the women in China". Legal questions were also raised by Yao Jianguo of the Shanghai Promise law firm, who has written a letter of complaint to the national people's congress in which he accused the police of acting illegally and violating human dignity.

The resurgence of the "skin-and-flesh" trade has become increasingly visible since the start of China's free market economic reforms in the late 1970s.

Among the most notorious centres are Shenzhen and Zhuhai - the biggest mainland cities near Hong Kong - where there are streets full of pink-lit karaoke centres and massage parlours.

Previous attempts to tackle the industry have had mixed results. Three years ago, the organisers of an orgy involving more than 200 Japanese sex tourists and local prostitutes were sentenced to life imprisonment. Earlier this year, thousands of armed police were deployed in Shenzhen to quash a protest by more than 3,000 prostitutes and karaoke hostesses who were left without jobs after the closure of massage parlours and discos.


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