Police detain Chinese sex workers' activist who called for legalization of prostitution

BEIJING (AP) — Plainclothes officers detained a Chinese activist for sex workers' rights Monday, a few days after she publicly called for prostitution to be legalized, her sister said.

Ye Haiyan was nabbed at the offices of her community group, the China Women's Rights Workshops, and told she would be held for two or three days of "studies," her sister, Ye Sha, told The Associated Press.

Dissidents in China are often detained by authorities with the explanation that they are "going for studies" or "taking a vacation." Usually, they are kept at a guesthouse to prevent them from moving about freely during sensitive dates.

Last week, Ye Haiyan and a few supporters asked people in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where she is based, to sign a petition in support of legalizing prostitution, according to an account on her group's website. She also called for Aug. 3 — Tuesday — to be marked as "Sex Workers' Day."

Ye Haiyan argued that making prostitution legal would afford sex workers better protections.

When reached on her mobile phone Monday, Ye Haiyan declined to comment, saying it was not a convenient time for her to talk. Phones rang unanswered in the administrative department of Wuhan's public security bureau.

Prostitution is rampant in China despite frequent government crackdowns, and sexual services are openly offered in massage parlors, karaoke bars and nightclubs.

Until last month, when the Ministry of Public Security issued a ban, police would sometimes organize "prostitute parades" to shame suspected sex workers. The ban came after an outcry over photos of women being paraded barefoot in the streets of Dongguan in Guangdong province, handcuffed and led by a rope around the waist.

(This version CORRECTS spelling of activist's name.)