In this photo taken 2016 and released by Deng Guilian, Hua Haifeng is seen during a visit to a park in Chengde in central China's Hubei province. The State Department called June 5, 2017, for the immediate release of three labor activists, including Hua, who investigated a Chinese company that produced Ivanka Trump shoes in China. The Associated Press reported that the men were arrested or went missing last week. (Deng Guilian via AP)

Lawyer: 3 men who probed Ivanka Trump shoemaker detained

June 06, 2017 - 5:11 am

SHANGHAI (AP) — A lawyer for one of three activists detained while investigating a Chinese company that produced shoes for Ivanka Trump and other brands in China said Tuesday that all three men were being held at the Ganzhou City Detention Center in southeastern China, where conditions were crowded but tolerable.

The activists were working with China Labor Watch, a New York-based nonprofit organization, and were investigating Huajian Group factories in the southeastern Chinese cities of Ganzhou and Dongguan.

The U.S. State Department called Monday for their immediate release.

The company has denied allegations of excessive overtime and low wages. It says it stopped producing Ivanka Trump shoes months ago.

The lawyer, Wen Yu, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that after a day and a half of waiting he was finally able to meet his client, Hua Haifeng.

"His condition inside is OK. Nobody beat him," Yu said. "It's just that he has to sleep next to the toilet. People go to pee all night." He said the cell was crowded with 21 people who have been ordered not to speak with Hua.

Yu said he had applied for bail for Hua. He added that authorities had told him there was an accident in the cell on Monday which had prevented him from seeing his client, though Hua later told him no such accident had happened. "It looked like it was an attempt to not let me meet with him," Yu said.

Yu said he was told the case was being handled by a national security team, rather than a criminal police squad. "This is strange because it is a small case," he said.

Until Monday, the U.S. government had not said anything about the fate of the three men.

"We urge China to release them immediately and otherwise afford them the judicial and fair trial protections to which they are entitled," said Alicia Edwards, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman.

Edwards would not confirm if the U.S. raised the issue directly with China, saying she couldn't comment on diplomatic conversations. White House spokesman Josh Raffel declined to comment.

Ivanka Trump's brand has declined to comment on the allegations or the arrest and disappearances of the investigators. Marc Fisher, which produces shoes for Ivanka Trump and other brands, has said it is looking into the allegations. Ivanka Trump's lifestyle brand imports most of its merchandise from China, trade data show. She and her father both have extensive trademark portfolios in China, though neither has managed to build up a large retail or real estate presence here.

China Labor Watch executive director Li Qiang says he lost touch with the activists late last month.

The group planned to publish a report alleging low pay, excessive overtime and possible misuse of student labor. The investigators also witnessed verbal abuse, with one manager insulting staff about poorly made shoes and making a crude reference in Chinese to female genitalia, according to Li.

The detentions come as China cracks down on perceived threats to the stability of its ruling Communist Party, particularly from sources with foreign ties such as China Labor Watch.

Faced with rising labor unrest and a slowing economy, Beijing has taken a stern approach to activism in southern China's manufacturing belt and to human rights advocates generally, sparking a wave of critical reports about disappearances, public confessions, forced repatriation and torture in custody.

Edwards said the U.S. remains concerned by "the pattern of arrests and detentions." She said labor activists are instrumental in helping American companies understand conditions in their supply chains and holding Chinese manufacturers accountable under Chinese labor laws.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington and researcher Fu Ting in Shanghai contributed to this report.

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