Update: On October 11 2023, Cheng Lei was released and returned to Australia.
September 21, 2023
Dear Prime Minister,
I am writing to you on behalf of Human Rights Watch in advance of your upcoming visit to China. We hope you will use this important trip to take a firm public stand on human rights issues in China before, during and after your trip. Raising human rights with China’s leadership in private has proven time and again to be inadequate.
The Chinese government continues to commit serious human rights violations both inside and outside of China (see attached briefing note). The longtime practice of many democratic countries – to engage in “quiet diplomacy” on human rights issues – has not resulted in greater respect for human rights by the Chinese government. Extreme repression in Xinjiang that amounts to crimes against humanity continues. Australian citizens and permanent residents face arbitrary arrest or detention: Cheng Lei and Yang Henjun are still in prison; Kevin Yam and Ted Hui have bounties out for their arrest. Academic freedom is being threatened as Chinese pro-democracy students in Australia self-censor to avoid being “reported on” by them to authorities back home.
The Australian government should take action to demonstrate to the Chinese government that this oppression and the threat it poses to the international human rights system needs to stop.
We therefore urge you to:
- Inform your Chinese counterparts of the intent of the Australian government to join with a diverse coalition of states to support international investigations into grave international crimes in Xinjiang. In October 2022, the United Nations Human Rights Council nearly agreed to a debate on the report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that found that alleged international crimes against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims “may constitute … crimes against humanity.” We are confident that determined international initiatives can prevail to challenge the Chinese government’s impunity for serious abuses and its efforts to undermine the international human rights system.
- Engage in roundtable discussions before your trip with victims of Chinese government human rights violations, including those with family members still in China. We encourage you to meet with victims’ groups ahead of your visit to learn the key issues you should raise in China. On return, we encourage you to meet with these groups again and share insights from your trip.
- Inform your Chinese counterparts of Australia’s intent to spearhead a coalition of like-minded governments to launch a project to assist Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims currently living in their countries to locate missing family members in Xinjiang.
- Publicly call upon President Xi Jinping to release Australian citizens and permanent residents wrongfully detained in China, specifically Cheng Lei and Yang Henjun.
- Inform your Chinese counterparts that Australian authorities will vigorously investigate and appropriately prosecute acts of repression by Chinese officials and their proxies in Australia that violate Australian law, including harassing, intimidating, and carrying out surveillance of critics of the Chinese government, and that the Australian government will work with allied governments to do the same in their countries.
- Demonstrate support for press freedom by having a media briefing while still in China, and do the same after you leave so that journalists barred from China and Hong Kong are able to participate.
We understand the Australian government’s desire to cooperate with the Chinese government on global issues and crises. However, few durable gains can be achieved with a government that crushes free speech and other fundamental freedoms, disregards its international human rights obligations, and threatens the rights of people abroad. If Australia’s commitments to human rights and the rule of law are to be meaningful, and if the government hopes to make progress on several goals, pressing Beijing for accountability for its most serious violations is critical.
Human Rights Watch