(Sydney) – Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull should use his first official visit to China to speak out about human rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said today, in releasing a letter to Turnbull.
Turnbull is visiting Shanghai and Beijing from April 14 to 15, 2016, as part of the annual “Australia Week in China,” which includes a delegation of more than one thousand Australian businesspeople.
“Prime Minister Turnbull’s aim for closer economic ties with China should not deter him from raising critical human rights concerns,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “Turnbull should make clear that China’s worst crackdown on human rights in two decades doesn’t help the economic climate, and that Beijing’s threats to the rule of law are toxic for business.”
Over the past two years, Chinese authorities have arbitrarily detained, wrongfully prosecuted, and forcibly disappeared hundreds of rights activists and lawyers, Human Rights Watch said. Many have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention. Authorities increasingly treat peaceful dissent as a threat to public order or national security, epitomized by the prosecution of prominent Uighur economist Ilham Tohti.
The Chinese government under President Xi Jinping has abducted and arbitrarily detained foreigners and Chinese dual nationals outside China, Human Rights Watch said. China’s law enforcement and security forces have increasingly operated without permission in other countries. The rule of law, which Turnbull frequently espouses, is under sustained and intensified attack in China.
Even the Internet, which has offered marginally freer space for the exchange of ideas and commercial activity, is heavily censored through regulations, policies, and practices known as the “Great Firewall.”
“Since Xi Jinping became president, the Chinese government has conducted an unrelenting assault on free expression, peaceful protest, and human rights defenders,” Pearson said. “Censorship and Internet restrictions threaten free speech but also stifle innovation and enterprise, which should be of great concern for a prime minister who has championed digital innovation.”
Human Rights Watch said Turnbull should publicly and privately urge Chinese counterparts to:
- End the assault on the rights of civil society organizations;
- Commit to respecting the rights of Chinese nationals and others beyond its borders;
- Substantially revise laws on security, counterterrorism, and cybersecurity to conform with international legal standards;
- Reform the criminal justice system to ensure respect for the rights of suspects and hold abusive officials to account; and
- Roll back restrictions on Internet use to conform with free expression rights.
Australia has spoken out on human rights in China at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, and in March 2016, joined a number of countries in an unprecedented joint statement condemning China’s arbitrary detention of peaceful activists and enforced disappearances of citizens and foreigners.
The Australian government has at times dismissed public statements on human rights as “megaphone diplomacy,” but such statements send a strong message to both victims of abuses and society at large of the extent of the government’s concern and may provide some degree of protection against future abuses, Human Rights Watch said.
“Publicly promoting respect for human rights in China is in Australia’s national interest,” Pearson said. “China’s repression not only harms the targets of abuses but is a threat to its stability and economy.”