BEIJING (Reuters) - China called on other countries on Tuesday to respect its judicial sovereignty after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced as "inexcusable" the detention of five women activists.
China has previously rejected calls from Britain and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to release the women activists, who had planned to demonstrate against sexual harassment on public transport.
The five young women had made signs and stickers bearing slogans like "stop sexual harassment" and calling for police to arrest molesters, photographs circulated by rights groups showed.
The women - Li Tingting, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, Zheng Churan and Wu Rongrong - were detained on the weekend of International Women's Day, March 8, on suspicion of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble", a charge that carries a jail sentence of up to five years.
Clinton had tweeted "The detention of women's activists in China must end. This is inexcusable".
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said the matter was an internal affair.
"China is a country ruled by law. Relevant departments will handle the relevant case according to law. We hope that public figures in other countries can respect China's judicial sovereignty and independence," Hua told a daily news briefing.
The decision to detain the women comes amid a clampdown on dissent. President Xi Jinping's administration has detained hundreds of activists in the past two years in what some rights groups say is the worst suppression of dissent in two decades.
Clinton, the Democrats' presumed 2016 presidential front-runner, has been a long-time critic of China's human rights record. In 2012, she led a tense week of negotiations with China over the fate of blind rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who is now living in the United States.
(Reporting by Michael Martina, Writing by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Ben Blanchard, Robert Birsel)