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Campaigners hail release of Chinese feminist activists

Campaigners have welcomed the release of five Chinese women's rights activists whose detention had drawn international condemnation. But China says it may prosecute an associated anti-discrimination NGO.

Campaigners have welcomed the release of five Chinese women's rights activists whose detention had drawn international condemnation. But China says it may prosecute an associated anti-discrimination NGO.

Human rights activists and the European Union on Tuesday welcomed

the activists' release a day earlier,

with Amnesty International (AI) calling the move an "encouraging breakthrough."

The weeks-long detention of the five women, who were arrested after carrying out a number of public protests against spousal abuse and sexual harassment, had brought

international calls for their release,

including from the European Union, Britain and the United States.

The EU delegation to China said in a statement that it heard of the women's release "with relief."

Maya Wang, the China researcher for activist group Human Rights Watch, said Beijing had freed the women in reaction to the "unprecedented global response" to their detention.

Public relations move?

The move came as Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to co-host a women's summit at the United Nations in September. Rights groups had called for a boycott of the event if the five activists were not released.

A lawyer for one of the women, Liang Xiaojun, said, however, that the investigation against the five was still open for another year, allowing formal charges to be brought against them during that time. They must also report their movements to police.

AI has called on China to end the investigation and drop all charges against the women, saying their conditional release on bail was "an incomplete step."

NGO in government sights

In another sign on the government's tight monitoring of independent social activism, authorities said on Tuesday that a prominent non-governmental organization that fights against discrimination could face legal action for alleged offenses.

The offices of the organization, Yirenping, were raided in late March, and several of its members have gone into hiding. The NGO, which defends the rights of people with HIV, Hepatitis B, women and disabled people, had also lobbied for the release of the five women.

"For the organization they (the women) are affiliated with, Beijing Yirenping Center, because this organization is suspected of violating the law, it will face punishment," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a daily news briefing.

Xi's administration has detained hundreds of activists in the past two years in

a growing clampdown

on what it sees as political dissent. A frequent charge used as grounds for such arrests is that of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble."

tj/jil (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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