Congressional commission blasts China's human rights record

by June Cheng
Posted 10/09/15, 10:40 am

Lawyer Wang Yu, 44, always knew her role in some of the highest-profile human rights cases in China came with big risks: “One might disappear, be sent to a mental hospital or detention center. This could happen anytime,” Yu said in a segment of the documentary The Road from Hainan released by The Guardian. She’s defended Falun Gong practitioners, a Uighur professor, and middle school girls who had allegedly been sexually assaulted by their principal—all sensitive topics to the Chinese government.

On July 9, her prediction came true. At 3 a.m. she posted on social media that her apartment’s power had been cut and she heard someone breaking in. When a friend arrived at her home hours later, Wang was gone. In the following months, 276 lawyers, human rights activists, and their family members have been arrested, detained, or prevented from leaving the country. During the largest crackdown on human rights lawyers, Christian lawyer Zhang Kai—who represented Zhejiang pastors whose crosses were demolished by government officials—was also detained and could face up to 10 years in prison.

These cases, along with the continued crackdown on freedom of speech, freedom of press, rights of ethnic minorities, and foreign NGOs, paint a bleak picture of human rights abuses in China, according to a recent report by the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CCEC). The bipartisan group was set up in 2000 to monitor and report on human rights and the rule of law in China.

“Human rights and rule of law have suffered a devastating blow since President Xi Jinping came to power,” said co-chairman and GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. He noted these issues could not be brushed aside in U.S.-China relations, neither morally nor strategically: “A government that does not respect the rights and basic dignity of its own people cannot be assumed to be a responsible actor in the global arena.”

Many have criticized President Barack Obama’s open welcome of the communist Chinese leader to Washington in September, including the 21-gun salute on the White House lawn. As Xi was treated with full honors, back in China the internet continues to be heavily censored, newspaper editors are given instructions on what and how to report, and at least 1,300 political and religious prisoners languish in prison. China has succeeded in creating a digital information desert by blocking access to Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, and major U.S. news sites.

The development of civil society organizations has also taken a step back with China’s new non-governmental organization (NGO) draft law. The law would restrict charities, business groups, and universities by requiring the foreign nonprofits to find a government-backed sponsor and face heavy regulations on funding.

The congressional report also points out that China’s continuation of its 35-year-old one-child policy has led to official abuse and corruption, and has created a gaping gender imbalance. While the government modified the policy in 2013 to allow couples who are both only children to have a second child, the move was too little, too late. The gender imbalance has led to other issues such as sex trafficking or an increase in kidnappings as men are unable to find wives.

“The ’One-Child Policy’ is hated by Chinese families, condemned by the international community, and the potential economic, security, and societal consequences are dire,” said commission chair Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J. “The U.S. could play an important role in helping to end this horrific policy—once and for all.”

In September, Obama said he had a “frank discussion” with his Beijing counterpart on China’s “problematic” human rights record. Xi responded that he agreed human rights is “the common pursuit of mankind” but urged America to respect China’s different views on human rights and its timetable for reform.

In the Road from Hainan documentary shot before Yu’s arrest, she paints a different picture of her country’s situation: “Many people think: ‘China is rich, China is developing quickly, China has tall buildings, wide highways, fancy cars.’ They don’t know that Chinese people are like animals that don’t have any basic rights.”

June Cheng

June is the East Asia correspondent for WORLD Magazine. Follow June on Twitter @JuneCheng_World.

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