(New York, April 4, 2017) – China’s human rights environment continues to deteriorate as Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump prepare to meet at a summit on April 6-7, 2017, at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, Human Rights Watch said today.

“Torture, disappearances, imprisoning peaceful advocates, destroying religious communities, internet censorship – President Xi has plenty to answer for on these subjects,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “But will he be asked – and asked to change course?”

A combination of file photos showing Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) in London's Heathrow Airport, October 19, 2015 and (R) U.S. President Donald Trump listening to questions from reporters in New York, U.S., January 9, 2017. 

The Chinese government aggressively stepped up its campaign against civil society activists and online speech in the past year. Many peaceful critics of the government remained locked away, including Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo and Uighur economist Ilham Tohti. Eight of the human rights lawyers and supporters among the 300 detained during a nationwide raid in July 2015 are still facing trial, while another six have been sentenced; the legal proceedings have fallen far short of international standards.

In 2017, President Xi has shown no sign of letting up on his sweeping signature anti-corruption campaign, which is carried out in part through the Chinese Communist Party’s own internal disciplinary system, known as shuanggui. This system of arbitrary detention, which has no basis in Chinese law, subjects Party members suspected of violating party rules or engaging in corruption to prolonged sleep deprivation, forced stress positions, deprivation of water and food, and in some cases severe beatings. Chinese authorities have also continued to demolish Larung Gar, a major Tibetan Buddhist institution, expelling monks and nuns, and subjecting them to political re-education, exceptional restrictions on their liberty, and degrading treatment.

As one of the many recent steps by Chinese authorities to impose near-total control of access to information, the government of Chongqing, a city of about 50 million in southwest China, in March made public an unprecedented regulation that bans unauthorized use of internet circumvention tools – which allow “netizens” to get around China’s “Great Firewall – in the city.

Also in March, Chinese courts sentenced three activists to sentences ranging from three to four-and-a-half years for supporting democracy in Hong Kong and commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. And a day after Beijing installed a loyalist in Hong Kong’s top governmental position, Hong Kong police charged leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement with the crime of “public nuisance.”

In recent years, Chinese authorities have also detained citizens of other countries – inside and outside China – such as Taiwanese activist Lee Ming-cheh, Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai, and American businesspeople Sandy Phan-Gillis and James Wang – and denying their embassies access.

“No doubt President Xi will offer soothing words about China’s role in the world,” Richardson said. “But no one should be fooled by a man and a government who preside through brutality and repression. Xi’s record speaks for itself.”