BEIJING — In a surprise move, Chinese authorities on Monday released on bail five women’s rights activists whose detention had caused an international uproar.
The five, best known for staging peaceful “performance art” demonstrations to highlight women’s rights, were detained in early March because of their plans to mark International Women’s Day by distributing stickers and leaflets about sexual harassment on public transportation.
The arrests came as China has tightened the screws on activists and nongovernmental organizations in one of the most severe clampdowns on dissent in decades. But the detentions sparked outrage abroad and threatened to cast a shadow over President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the United States in September.
In New York, Xi is due to address a U.N. summit on women, co-hosted by the Chinese delegation to the world body. The arrests galvanized public opinion against his participation in the event.
Vice President Biden and Secretary of State John F. Kerry recently joined calls for the five women to be released, while several online petitions gathered millions of signatures globally.
Earlier Monday, China responded to the pressure with anger.