Howey Ou, the green activist who challenges China

She is sitting on the ground, on the steps of the fountain. The pedestrians look strangely at this young Chinese woman who occupies a public square in the center of Lausanne. Some stop to read his sign: “I am on a hunger strike against the unjust condemnation of the Zadistas in Mormont. Defending nature is not a crime ”. Next to her, a sleeping bag (she sleeps there) and a cup of tea (she allows herself to drink). Local journalists came to interview what is sometimes nicknamed “Chinese Greta Thunberg” because she is the first, and was for a long time the only, “climate striker” in China. It was she who launched the Fridays For Future movement in her country, initiated by her Swedish comrade.

Howey Ou’s hunger strike, three days and three nights without eating, has two objectives. First, draw attention to the cause it defends here, in Switzerland, this “Zone to be defended” which was set up last October on the Mormont hill, against a cement plant project. “First polluter of # CO2 in Switzerland, according to #stopholcim on Twitter, the multinational LafargeHolcim also regularly violates human rights, by exploiting populations and resources in the world”. Then denounce the charges requested by the prosecutor against her – 60 days of criminal imprisonment and a fine of 1,200 Swiss francs (1,000 euros) – and against her comrades. “This unfair verdict shows how the system still denies the ecological crisis”, she comments on the phone, on Signal, this application which does not collect any personal data and guarantees the anonymity of its users. Because she knows she is being watched, especially by her government. Even here, in exile abroad.

Howey was born in the city of Guilin, famous for its parks and verdant mountains. She recalls those days when the air is so polluted in her hometown that you can’t even see the sky. In all of her childhood, however, she never heard of global warming. Taboo, the subject did not exist in China. Hence her “shock”, as she describes it, when she discovered Al Gore’s documentary on the environmental crisis in 2018, then Greta Thunberg in the wake. “She immediately impressed me, this girl of my age, who does extraordinary things for the planet”. Stunned not to find China listed among the 120 countries taking part in the great “global climate strike” of May 2019, Howey takes his courage in both hands, posts a message on Twitter and leaves to stand in front of the town hall of his city. She knows what she risks, thus defying the authorities: prison, perhaps for life, like so many activists in her country. On the seventh day of his strike, two officers came to arrest him. At the station, she is warned of the serious repercussions she incurs if she continues. Her parents are also harassed by the police, who call them at their workplace, threatening them if their daughter does not stop. In high school, the principal demands that she stop activating, otherwise she will be fired. She then left her city, traveled the country to meet the rare green activists like her. Every Friday, wherever she is, she takes to the streets to demonstrate, like her comrades around the world. She is often checked, sometimes arrested, despite everything continues to criticize, on social networks, the environmental attacks of her government and certain companies. She received on Weibo, the main Chinese social network, millions of criticisms, sarcasm, insults from her compatriots. In particular for the interviews she gave to major newspapers of the foreign press, which devoted several pages to her: “New York Times”, “Guardian”, etc. Criticizing the government in the Western media is seen in China as an act of treason.

It is therefore from Europe that she continues the fight this year. “Because everything is connected, LafargeHolcim is the kind of multinational responsible for the natural disasters which also hit my country”. While awaiting trial, her three-day hunger strike barely over, she began another. One week this time for World Earth Day. “Considering the thousands of people who are dying every day from the climate crisis, that’s really not much. “

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