China on Tuesday issued a statement calling for its judicial sovereignty to be respected after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the country’s detention of feminist activists as “inexcusable.”

Five women activists staged a set of protests against sexual violence and harassment in China, dressing up as blood-stained brides to raise awareness of domestic violence and distributing signs and stickers calling for stronger police response against these crimes. They were detained on the weekend of International Women’s Day in March on charges of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," which could see them imprisoned for up to five years.

Speaking at a press briefing on Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters that the matter would be handled internally. "China is a country ruled by law," he said, according to Reuters. "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." 

The detention also drew criticism from elsewhere in Washington. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, described the move as a “sad reflection on ‘women’s rights are human rights.’ ”

In China, speaking out against sexual harassment is ‘creating a disturbance,’ " she added. "Disturbance is restricting NGOs fighting for universal rights.” 

China’s move comes at a time when the country is cracking down on political dissent. The offices of a prominent nonprofit, which was calling for the release of the women, were also raided last month, as part of an ongoing suppression that has reportedly been called the worst China has seen since Tiananmen Square.