A Beijing court has ruled against the complainant in a landmark #MeToo sexual harassment case, saying there isn’t enough evidence to support Zhou Xiaoxuan’s claims against state broadcaster CCTV anchor Zhu Jun.
The lawsuit brought by former CCTV intern Zhou Xiaoxuan against former TV host Zhu Jun stalled in December 2020 after the defendant failed to show up, before being dismissed by a court in Beijing’s Haidian district on Wednesday due to “insufficient evidence.”
”On Sept. 14, 2021, the Haidian District People’s Court in Beijing held a hearing … and pronounced judgment in accordance with the law to hear a case brought by plaintiff Zhou XX against Defendant Zhu,” the court said in a statement.
It said the plaintiff and defendant had both brought evidence and undergone cross-examination.
“The [court] found that the evidence submitted by the plaintiff Zhou was insufficient to prove the claim of sexual harassment against Zhu. The lawsuit was rejected in the first instance,” it said.
Before the hearing started, Zhou spoke to supporters outside the court building.
“We came together here today because we feel the same way about this,” she said in comments reported by the Free Chinese Feminists Twitter account.
“It has been an honor to experience the frustration of the past three years, and this painful defeat, along with all of you,” she said. “This is as important as a victory.”
But after the verdict, she said she felt exhausted and disappointed.
“I don’t know if I still have the courage to keep going at this for another three years, so I don’t know if this is goodbye,” she said.
But Zhou vowed in a later statement to appeal the court’s decision.
“We will definitely appeal, because this case didn’t look at any of the core factual material, the surveillance footage,” she said.
Account of harassment
Zhou, who is now 28, went viral on Chinese social media in 2018 after she wrote a long account of her alleged sexual harassment by Zhu in a dressing room during her internship at state-run CCTV in 2014.
Zhou accused Zhu, who presented the CCTV New Year TV gala for two decades until the allegations surfaced, of groping her and forcibly kissing her during a conversation about a potential career at the state broadcaster. She said in her online account that the assault only ended because a guest came into the room.
Zhu has denied the allegations, and has filed a defamation lawsuit against Zhou over the allegations.
When she posted her account to social media platform Sina Weibo in 2018, Zhou cited the #MeToo hashtag campaign as her “guiding light.”
She reported the incident to the police, who began looking at security footage, but later dropped the case amid concerns that it would “harm the positive image” of the TV personality and CCTV in the eyes of the public. The original post was later deleted.
Zhou told RFA affiliate Wainao/WhyNot in an interview earlier this year that pro-government trolls had been targeting her and other women who spoke out using the #MeToo hashtag, claiming that they were being used by “foreign forces” to cause trouble in China.
“It just shuts you up instantly,” she said. “Then they blame you for hyping everything, and hint that your relations with men are too close and say you’re delusional.”
“Behind [men like] Zhu Jun is a powerful society, which protects men, avoids talking about sexual violence, and deliberately suppresses victims,” Zhou said. “If you confront this, it will be completely detrimental to you, structurally and culturally.”
Reprisals from the Party
Women who campaign for human rights in China face reprisals from the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that can also include enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, sexual abuse, and torture, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network said in a 2019 report.
The CCP has targeted civil organizations including the Beijing Yirenping Center, a public health and anti-discrimination NGO, the Weizhiming Women’s Center in Hangzhou, which had run campaigns against gender discrimination, violence against women and sexual harassment, and the Beijing Zhongze Women’s Legal Counseling Service Center.
While the #MeToo movement sparked a conversation in 2018, mainly online, about sexual harassment in China, it also led to some backlash and widespread censorship, including the closure of the Sina Weibo and Tencent WeChat accounts of the group Feminist Voices, the report said.
Chinese feminists have said that, while #MeToo swelled the ranks of online activists, who have a range of social media tools at their fingertips, the CCP is increasingly using armies of pro-government trolls to stage an online backlash.
The torrent of online abuse from government-backed anti-feminists is also dividing the feminist movement, with individuals left feeling isolated and confused by the onslaught.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.