UN: China blocks civil society activists, harasses experts



Credit: Economist

Human Rights Watch says in a new report Tuesday that China has tried to intimidate, blacklist and squelch the voices of rights advocates who operate within the U.N. system, calling on Beijing to stop such pressure and urging U.N. agencies to resist, The AP reports:

The New York-based group’s report is based on interviews with 55 people including U.N. officials, diplomats and civil society representatives between May 2016 and March, and takes aim at a powerful, rising country with a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

The 96-page report, “The Costs of International Advocacy: China’s Interference in United Nations Human Rights Mechanisms,” details China’s efforts to harass independent activists, primarily those from China, the group adds:

Chinese officials have photographed and filmed activists on UN premises in violation of UN rules, and restricted travel by mainland activists to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. China has also used its membership on the Economic and Social Council’s Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to block NGOs critical of China from being granted UN accreditation, and it has sought – and succeeded in – blacklisting accredited activists from participating in UN events…..

Chinese officials have at times harassed and intimidated UN staff, experts on treaty bodies, and independent experts focusing on specific human rights issues. One expert told Human Rights Watch that, “the whole UN machinery tries to make space for civil society while [China’s] machinery works the other way, trying to shrink space for NGOs.” China sharply limits the visits of UN experts to China, pressures the UN to exclude from committees potentially critical experts, and rarely provides substantive answers to queries by UN human rights bodies.

“Taken individually, many of China’s actions against NGOs might be viewed as an annoyance or an irritant,” the report says. “But taken together, they amount to what appears to be a systematic attempt to subvert the ability of the U.N. human rights system to confront abuses in China and beyond.”

Just in the past few weeks, Beijing has engineered a series of steps that some would regard as astonishing for a government that seeks — indeed demands — the respect of the world, and that bristles when critics point to its acts of repression. Yet even as observers object to the incidents themselves, the world’s disapproval is rarely directed at the regime and its leader, notes Arch Puddington, Distinguished Fellow for Democracy Studies at Freedom House and author of the recent report Breaking Down Democracy: The Goals, Strategies, and Methods of Modern Authoritarians. Consider the following:

  • In the latest in a series of scripted, televised confessions by political prisoners, a human rights lawyer, Jiang Tianyong, confessed in court to inciting subversion and begged for mercy. Jiang said he had been led astray by Westerners who promoted the concept of the rule of law. The idea of the rule of law is anathema to the Beijing leadership because it suggests that there are objective principles of governance that outrank the authority of the Communist Party.
  • Having already bullied major technology companies into accepting censorship or leaving the country, Beijing “requested” that Cambridge University Press (CUP) delete 315 scholarly articles from the Chinese website of China Quarterly, which CUP publishes. In a craven act of self-censorship, CUP initially complied. Such capitulations only encourage the authorities in their step-by-step campaign to eliminate rigorous studies and fact-based investigations from print and the internet if they deviate from the official interpretation of history or current events.
  • Hong Kong officials, presumably at the urging of Beijing, took the BBC World Service off the local airwavesand replaced it with programming from China’s state radio channel. Having previously enjoyed access to one of the world’s most respected news sources, the people of Hong Kong will instead receive broadcasts that are heavily censored and driven by a mission to advance the Chinese government’s take on global events—in other words, propaganda.
  • Finally, there is the sentencing of the Hong Kong three young democracy advocates who have been among the leaders of a movement toward greater freedom and autonomy from Beijing. The three — Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, and Alex Chow (right) — were originally sentenced to community service, with no jail time. Subsequently, a higher court reversed that decision and sentenced the activists to jail terms of six to eight months. Here again, the decision to abrogate the original sentences was likely made under pressure from the mainland.

There is a real danger in Chinese leaders’ adeptness at escaping opprobrium for this ever-escalating repression, Puddington writes for The Diplomat. RTWT

The National Endowment for Democracy this week hosts a memorial symposium honoring the legacy of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo.

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