Protest in China for legal brothels, organizer held

BEIJING Tue Aug 3, 2010 2:52am EDT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - An activist Chinese sex worker said she had been detained after fronting an unusual protest to demand legalized prostitution, rampant in China despite an official ban since the Communists took power six decades ago.

Ye Haiyan, who also goes by the name of "Hooligan Sparrow," rallied a small group of sex workers and their supporters in the central Chinese city of Wuhan last Thursday.

The group, holding red umbrellas, carried banners and collected signatures urging an end to discrimination against sex workers.

"I cannot talk or use the Internet right now, I am with them," Ye told Reuters by text message, having been detained on Sunday. "I am at a 'resort' and receiving 're-education'."

Wuhan police could not be reached for comment. Prostitution is banned and usually a taboo topic in state media.

The China Development Brief, a well-regarded non-profit publication which writes on China's civil society, said the protest was the first of its kind in China.

Ye, a single mother who describes herself as a sex worker on her Twitter micro-blogging page, started a website for sex workers five years ago.

She soon opened her own NGO, the Chinese Women's Rights Workshop, to promote sex workers' health and human rights, visiting massage parlors and barber shops in Wuhan to distribute condoms and AIDS-prevention pamphlets.

"I promote AIDS awareness. They can investigate all of that, but I do not deserve this kind of treatment," Ye said in a message that appeared on her Twitter feed shortly after she was detained.

Prostitution has returned with a vengeance since China embarked upon market-oriented economic reforms in the late 1970s. A World Health Organization study has estimated the country has four million sex workers.

Ye said she had also been angered by the "shame parades" of sex workers common in recent government crackdowns.

Last month, a suspected prostitute was pictured barefoot, handcuffed and led about by a rope in a street in Dongguan in southern Guangdong province, which provoked a backlash online.

(Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Ben Blanchard and Jonathan Thatcher)

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