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In recent times, Chinese government has embarked on a spree of arresting civil society activists, who have urged for a greater degree of transparency in the functioning of the government. These arrests not only undermine the sordid state of human rights in the country, but also expose the seriousness of the efforts of the Chinese government to fight corruption. Since February 2013, China has detained 55 activists, and in a gross violation of the right to freedom of expression, taken into custody critics and online opinion leaders. The Chinese government has also increased control on social media, online expression, and civil society activism.
The issue of a Chinese crackdown on civil society activists reemerged after the arrest of Xu Zhiyong, who pushed for greater civil rights. Xu is also the founder of the New Citizens Movement that advocates working within the system to press for greater transparency in the functioning of the government. Xu was arrested in August 2013, on the strange charge of gathering a crowd to disturb peace and order at a public place. Xu’s arrest is a continuation of China’s repression of voices of dissent and freedom.
The roots of such repression lie in China’s one party system. According to a the Freedom of the World Report, in 2012 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) committed more resources to internal security forces and intelligence agencies, enhanced controls over online social media, and increased societal surveillance. Citizens who attempt to form opposition parties or advocate for democratic reforms have been sentenced to long prison terms in recent years.
In April 2013, Guangzhou-based human rights defender Yang Maodong, who is better known under his pen name Guo Fengxiong, was detained on the charges of public order offences. Yang , who is a novelist and publisher, has been a strong advocate of the initiatives to promote Chinese civil society, and has pressed hard for reform of the government, including a demand for eliminating corruption, and ensuring greater transparency in the official function. The Chinese Human Rights based groups have rightly commented that Yang was arrested as a part of the crackdown on civil society activist who were trying to challenge the repressive policies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Another prominent instance of a Chinese repression on the right to freedom of expression was visible in 2009 when Lui Xiabio,- a Nobel winning laureate and a strong champion of ending the dominance of one party rule- was sentenced for 11 years .Liu Xiaobo was sentenced on 25 December 2009. His ‘offence’ was that he helped to draft a manifesto, titled Charter 08, which called for the end of the authoritarian rule of a single party, and strongly urged the path to a multiparty democratic political structure in China, calling for a radical political change.
International Response to the Chinese Restrictive Measures and Violation of Human Rights
Major international players have unanimously condemned the Chinese assault on the democratic rights of its citizens. In 2011, a group of the United Nations Human Rights experts was highly critical of China’s repressive regime, and voiced concerns about the arbitrary detentions of civil society activists, lawyers, and student, who dared to raise even a symbolic protest against the Chinese government. The group of experts strongly called on China to immediately release such persons who were victims of ‘enforced disappearances’, and also to provide an updated on the whereabouts of civil society activists and other people, who had disappeared mysteriously.
The United States too took cognizance of the assault of human rights and the denial of freedom of expression in China. In 2011, Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State mentioned that the Obama administration was deeply concerned with the spate of arrests. Clinton was unequivocal on the criticism of Chinese crackdown, and mentioned that detentions of civil society activists were in blatant contravention of the rule of law, and the internationally recognized right to fundamental freedom.
The US Country Reports on Human Practices for 2012 mentions in the very first line that the People Republic of China is an authoritarian state. The report mentioned that one of the major human rights problems in China pertained to the detention and harassment of lawyers, journalists, writers, dissidents, petitioners, and others who sought to exercise peacefully their rights under the law. This was further aggravated by a lack of due process in judicial proceedings, political control of courts and judges, closed trials, the use of administrative detention, and restrictions on freedom to assemble. The report further mentioned that the China sought to maintain control over civil society groups and suppressed the independently functioning Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Moreover, China repeatedly resorted to authoritarian means to stall the activities of civil society and rights activists groups.
The European Union too has expressed its concerns over the Chinese gross violation of the right to freedom of expression. In a Declaration issued on 28 August 2013, the European Union Vice President/High Representative Catherine Ashton expressed deep concerns over the detention of several Chinese civil society activists who in recent months had advocated for respecting the principles of the rule of law, transparency, and social justice, and campaigned against corruption. The Declaration called on the Chinese authorities to respect the right to freedom of expression under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Despite all the criticism leveled against it, China has turned a blind eye towards it. Chinese government has brazenly justified its repression of human rights on the pretext of maintaining law and order and internal security. In fact there has been even a denial of atrocities. In August 2013, the Chinese government issued a statement which completely rejected the criticisms of the international community and mentioned that human rights situation in China was at its “historic best”. Any attempts to criticize the politically motivated arrests were termed as an infringement into the Chinese judicial system.
This stance of the Chinese government makes conspicuous that it is futile to expect any reforms from the side of the government. It is up to the international community to stand up in unison against the Chinese repression. The major international organizations like the EU and Human Rights Watch must be stringent in their criticism, and raise the issue repeatedly at international forums such as United Nations Human Rights Council.
LAURA BACHMANN is a Senior Asia Correspondent for Global News Wire.