Today marks China’s National Day, commemorating the formal establishment of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 1949. Yet far from having something to celebrate, the regime’s continued disregard for human rights grows ever more concerning. In Hong Kong, thousands of riot police have been stationed across the city today, ready to stamp out any large democracy rallies.
As stated in Human Rights Watch’s annual China report:
“China’s government sees human rights as an existential threat.”
‘Cultural genocide’ & the oppression of ethnic minorities
Efforts to assimilate ethnic minority groups across China have accelerated under the leadership of Xi and repressive policies, resulting in what has been described as ‘cultural genocide’, have increased in regions such as Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia with large minority populations.
Since 2017, the Tibetan and Uyghur languages in education have been under growing restrictions in favour of Mandarin Chinese, and earlier this month, similar language policies were also introduced in Inner Mongolia, despite widespread protests.
Recent reports from Tibet accuse China of coercing hundreds of thousands of people in Tibet into military-style training centres that experts say are akin to labour camps.
They have also been compared to the camps in Xinjiang where over a million Muslim Uyghurs are being held in mass detention centres according to a UN human rights panel. According to a recent report from an Australian think tank, China has built nearly 400 internment camps in the Xinjiang region, with construction on dozens continuing over the last two years.
A report earlier this summer exposed how Chinese authorities are forcing women to be sterilised or fitted with contraceptive devices in Xinjiang in an apparent attempt to limit the population of Uyghurs.
Families are also deliberately being separated and, according to a BBC report, records show that in one township alone more than 400 children have lost not just one but both parents to some form of internment, either in the camps or in prison.
The International Observatory of Human Rights has campaigned extensively calling for the end of unjust detention of the Uyghur people.
Watch IOHR TV’s exclusive investigation into China’s cultural genocide of the Uyghur community.
Earlier this year, the International Observatory of Human Rights published “An Unanswered Telephone Call: A Personal Story of Uyghur persecution in China” written by Aziz Isa Elkun, General-Secretary of Uyghur Pen Centre. He lives in exile in London and has not been able to speak or communicate with his mother or any of his other relatives who are still in Xinjiang.
Aziz told IOHR:
“There is no doubt that many forms of genocide are taking place in Uyghurs’ homeland of East Turkistan.”
The use of technology and surveillance to suppress freedom of expression
By relying on the extensive use of new technology, President Xi Jinping has succeeded in imposing a social model in China based on the control of news and information and online surveillance of its citizens.
Under tougher Internet regulations, members of the public can now be jailed for the comments they leave on news items posted on social media or messaging services, or even just for sharing content.
At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, Chinese authorities began detaining people for “rumor-mongering,” censored online discussions of the epidemic, curbed media reporting, and failed to ensure appropriate access to medical care for those with virus symptoms and others with medical needs.
According to a Human Rights Watch report, dozens of people were detained for their online posts.
One was a doctor at a hospital where infected patients were being treated. In December, he sent messages in a private WeChat group alerting his colleagues about the unknown illness after which police forced him to sign a document stating that he would stop illegal activities and abide by the law. On 12 January, the doctor was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia symptoms after treating patients and later died from Covid-19.
High-tech surveillance is also used as a tool to suppress China’s ethnic minorities. According to Human Rights Watch, the Chinese government has forced people in Xinjiang to download an app that they then use for surveillance. The app connects to China’s social credit surveillance system and allows the authorities to collect vast amounts of information on residents including their blood type, height, religious “atmosphere” and their political affiliations.
Wall Street Journal reported in December 2017 that the amount of surveillance equipment used for every 100,000 people in Xinjiang roughly equals what is used to monitor over a million people in other parts of China.
Xinjiang’s public security budget nearly doubled last year according to local government statistics. This is eight times higher than the growth rate for China’s total public security budget.
The worst jailer of journalists
China’s press freedom record could be said to be non-existent, as press freedom simply does not exist in China.
According to CPJ, China is the worst jailer of journalists in the world after putting 48 journalists behind bars last year.
Reporters without Borders ranked China 177th out of 180 countries in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
China’s state and privately-owned media are under the Communist Party’s close control while foreign reporters trying to work in China are encountering more and more obstacles in the field with many having been expelled in recent months.
Hong Kong has been put under increasing pressure from Beijing since the protests against the extradition law broke out in March 2019.
Since the introduction of a new National Security Law (referred to as the death knell to democracy in the city) earlier this year, civil rights and liberties have diminished and press freedom has deteriorated sharply in Hong Kong.
The harassment of journalists has become commonplace, as have police raids on newsrooms. Books have been removed from libraries and a notice has been issued by the city’s education bureau ordering that children in nurseries, schools and special education establishments be taught to obey the new law.
A Covid-19 disinformation war that has ‘cost lives’
China is not only trying to control its own citizens but through elaborate propaganda and disinformation campaigns, is trying to exert pressure and influence abroad.
In a report from June this year, the European Commission mentioned Beijing for the first time as a source of online disinformation and linked Xi Jinping’s regime to attempts aimed at undermining Western democracies, sowing internal divisions and projecting a distorted view of China’s response to the global pandemic.
A couple of months prior, the European Union’s foreign and diplomatic wing released a report saying there was evidence of a “coordinated push” by official Chinese sources to deflect blame for the coronavirus pandemic and promote its response to the virus. This report, according to the New York Times, was subject to heavy pressure from Beijing, resulting in the criticism of China being softened in the final, published report.
Similarly, a group of British MPs from the Foreign Affairs Committee claimed that the Chinese Covid-19 disinformation campaign had “cost lives” in a report. The Committee’s chairman, Tom Tugendhat MP, said Beijing had initially “allowed disinformation to spread as quickly as the virus”. He added:
“Rather than helping other countries prepare a swift and strong response, it is increasingly apparent that they manipulated vital information about the virus in order to protect the regime’s image.”