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Adviser for striking shoe factory workers says China detained aide accused of spreading rumours

BEIJING, China - Police detained a labour rights activist following a strike by 40,000 employees at a factory that makes shoes for Adidas and Nike, his colleague said Wednesday.

Zhang Zhiru said he was informed orally by police in the southern city of Dongguan that his assistant, Lin Dong, was suspected of rumour spreading on social media. Zhang said no written notice was issued. Both had tried to advise the workers on the strike.

The detention raises concerns on suppression of China's rising labour movement. Most recently, several security guards were found guilty of disrupting public order in a southern Chinese court after they protested against their employer's failure to purchase insurance for them as required by law.

"I think the local governments have not truly understood President Xi Jinping's statement that to maintain social stability is to safeguard people's rights," labour scholar Wang Jiangsong said Wednesday. "What they have done may keep social stability in the short term, but it will add to social tensions in the long run."

The news office for Dongguan police said it was not aware of Lin's detention.

Zhang, a labour adviser, said he was taken away by police on April 22, the day after he travelled to Dongguan, where he and Lin met with workers at the factory complex run by Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings Ltd. The workers had gone on strike earlier this month to protest inadequate payments to social security and housing funds.

In an open letter, Zhang also advised Yue Yuen workers how to organize and fight for their rights within Chinese law.

Police had unsuccessfully lobbied him not to advise the workers before taking him away, Zhang said.

He was taken to a tourist site, where he saw sights and stayed in a villa at the expense of the police but was deprived of personal freedom and kept incommunicado, Zhang said. Police asked him to stay out of the strike, but he refused, Zhang said.

Zhang said he was released two days later without charge but learned that his aide, Lin, had been missing since April 22.

Zhang said Lin was accused of spreading a rumour, after he shared with a small circle of friends and colleagues via a cellphone messaging service an account about another strike at an electronics factory, which turned out to be false.

Wang, the labour scholar, said Lin's post was far from being criminally offensive, and that the charges against him were "to obstruct and block his contact with workers so he could not help them."

The strikers returned to work last week after management agreed to fully pay into the social security and housing funds starting May 1, meeting some but not of all of the workers' demands. Wang called it a partial victory for the workers but noted that they were forced to accept the deal and return to work after the local government and police intervened.

Zhang's advising group also failed to play any significant role in the strike, Wang said. "They have been intercepted by police," he said.

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