(New York) – China’s government tightened its grip on all aspects of society in 2018, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019. President Xi Jinping’s abusive rule deepened, as evidenced by the constitutional amendment removing presidential term limits, and the oppression of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang.
“China under President Xi has been a threat to human rights both at home and abroad,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “Countries and international institutions will need to push back against the repressive policies of a rising superpower.”
In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.
The Chinese government dramatically stepped up repression against the 13 million Turkic Muslims in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. Authorities have carried out mass arbitrary detention, torture, and mistreatment. About 1 million Turkic Muslims are being held indefinitely in “political education” camps, where they are forced to learn Mandarin Chinese and praise the government and Communist Party. Outside the detention facilities, authorities severely restrict movement, politically indoctrinate people, and have over a million officials to monitor residents by regularly staying in their homes.
In 2018, authorities continued politically motivated prosecutions of human rights lawyers and activists. Lawyer Wang Quanzhang has been detained for “subversion of state power” since August 2015 amid a national crackdown on rights lawyers. In July, a court sentenced veteran democracy activist Qin Yongmin to 13 years in prison for “subversion of state power.” Huang Qi, a longtime activist detained since November 2016 on charges of “leaking state secrets,” suffers from serious health conditions without adequate treatment.
Authorities also expanded their assault on the freedom of expression, detaining journalists for covering human rights issues, tightening ideological control over universities, and expanding the internet censorship regime to suppress political information and ostensible “vulgar” content. As the #MeToo movement gained momentum in China in 2018, censors deleted social media posts exposing sexual harassment linked to prominent men. In August, the media reported that Google had been developing a censored search engine app for the Chinese market.
Central and Hong Kong government authorities sought to limit rights in the territory. The government disqualified further pro-democracy figures from running for seats on Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, or Legco. In September, it took the unprecedented step of banning the nonviolent, pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, saying the group’s political stance “poses a real threat to national security.” In October, authorities rejected without explanation a Financial Times journalist’s application to renew his work visa after he hosted a talk by a pro-independence activist.
China’s growing global power makes it an exporter of human rights violations, including at the United Nations, where in 2018 it sought to block critics. In March, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution proposed by China that focused on China’s vision for “win-win cooperation” and omitted any mention of accountability for rights violations. China’s “One Belt, One Road” development initiative pressed ahead without safeguards or respect for human rights in many participating countries. Major Chinese technology companies, including Huawei, iFlytek, and ZTE, which have close relations with the government and contribute to police mass surveillance efforts, sought to expand abroad in 2018.
In one of its only human rights concessions all year, Chinese authorities allowed Liu Xia, an artist and the widow of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, to leave for Germany in July after eight years of legally baseless house arrest.
“More than ever, protecting human rights inside and outside China requires governments and institutions working together to end Xi’s abuses,” Richardson said. “No one should be giving a green light to China’s rampant violations.”