Beijing court dismisses 3-year old China #MeToo case

The court said in a judgement that Zhou Xiaoxuan did not meet the burden of proof in claiming that she was sexually harassed

A Beijing court ruled against a Chinese woman, on Tuesday, in a #MeToo case that wound through the courts for three years, in a blow to the tamped-down movement whose legacy remains uncertain.

The Haidian People’s Court said in a judgement, released late Tuesday night that Zhou Xiaoxuan, who had become the face of the country’s #MeToo movement, did not meet the burden of proof in claiming that Zhu Jun, her superior at her place of work, sexually harassed her.

Ms. Zhou was a former intern at Chinese state broadcaster CCTV and went public with accusations against Mr. Zhu, a prominent CCTV host, in 2018 as dozens of women began to speak out about their past experiences of being harassed or assaulted. Since then, the movement has been largely shut down by authorities, as activists found their online posts censored and faced pressure from authorities when trying to hold protests, but Ms. Zhou has continued to speak out.

“I’m very thankful for everyone, whether we win or lose, I’m very honoured to have experienced these last three years,” she said to reporters outside the court on Tuesday afternoon, as unidentified men and women came up and tried to push her along.

Ms. Zhou brought the suit against Mr. Zhu to counter a suit he had already lodged against her. She accused him of groping and forcibly kissing her in 2014., and asked for a public apology as well as 50,000 yuan ($7,600) in damages. Mr. Zhu has denied the claims.

While the movement no longer has protests or lawyers and others helping victims take legal action, some people are still pushing to get justice for victims of sexual violence, even if they do not cite the #MeToo label.

A series of sexual assault and rape accusations in recent weeks has drawn national attention. The most prominent was an accusation of sexual assault made by an Alibaba employee against two men. Chinese-Canadian singer Kris Wu was also arrested in Beijing on suspicion of rape over accusations made online.

“These incidents are a part of #MeToo, without a doubt,” said Lu Pin, the founder of Feminist Voices, an online publication that was shut down by censors in 2018. “Without #MeToo, it’s impossible to imagine these types of things coming out.”

After the #MeToo movement swept China, authorities responded with legal changes that activists and legal experts say have not yet led to real change on the ground. They defined sexual harassment in the country’s civil code, a massive effort approved in 2020 that organised civil laws and promised certain rights to citizens.

Still, victims of sexual violence face legal and social obstacles to seeking justice.

Ms. Zhou’s case lingered in the dockets for two years before a Beijing court agreed to hear it last December. The second part of the hearing, originally scheduled for May, was cancelled on the day by the court.

A few dozen supporters came on Tuesday to support Ms. Zhou, though many kept their distance because of the large number of police. Many police were in plainclothes and stood on the street filming.

“I think having one more person is a form of support, and form of power,” she said.

Throughout, she has pushed to make the court hearing a matter of public record and requested the court order Mr. Zhu to appear, citing basic legal procedures.

When she filed the suit in 2018, such complaints were treated as labour disputes or under other laws that didn’t relate directly to sexual harassment. Ms. Zhou’s was termed a “personality rights dispute”.

The court rejected a request by her lawyers to have her case heard under a legal provision enacted, after she filed the suit that explicitly cites sexual harassment.

“I believe that justice in these basic procedures is a necessary path to take to get a fair result, and all the efforts we made before the hearing are not just for victory, but for a fundamental fairness,” Zhou wrote on social media, on Monday.

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