On June 24, China's State Council Information Office issued a report on the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) efforts to respect and protect human rights. The report, issued on the eve of the CPC’s centenary on July 1, speaks highly of the party’s human rights record.
“Over the past century, the CPC has invested a huge effort in human rights protection, adding significantly to global human rights progress,” China’s state-run Xinhua news agency quoted the report as saying.
“For a hundred years, the CPC has always put people first, applying the principle of universality of human rights in the context of the national conditions. It regards the rights to subsistence and development as the primary and basic human rights, and believes that living a life of contentment is the ultimate human right.”
The claim that China “invested a huge effort” to protect human rights is false.
Beijing has regularly attempted to redefine the commonly understood definition of human rights to justify wholesale suppression of those rights in the name of economic development.
This position is summed up in a China Daily piece published in 2005 headlined, “Human rights can be manifested differently.”
The piece argues that although human rights are “universal,” they also have “specified connotations in different countries taking into account different levels of economic development, different social systems, varying cultural traditions and values and different religious faiths.”
It concludes that “the specifics of human rights vary from one country to another,” arguing that a unified human rights model often means “imposing Western human rights ideas on the rest of the world.” At the same time, the piece says “China's human rights outlook is in keeping with the basic principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
However, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948, describes itself as being “drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world.”
The CCP systematically violates a number of the 30 rights and freedoms set out by the UDHR.
For example, article 18 of the UDHR states that “[e]veryone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” and the right “to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
However, as Polygraph.info previously reported, all religious practice in China must be mediated by the state.
Beijing officially recognizes five religions — Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism. Other religious and spiritual groups are banned.
Article 300 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China broadly prohibits “superstitious sects, secret societies, and evil religious organizations.” Violators face up to life in prison. According to a 2019 U.S. State Department report, there is “no published criteria for determining, or procedures for challenging, such designations.”
All religious groups, including the five officially recognized, are subject to surveillance. Amnesty International stated in its China 2020 report that the “state’s repression of religion in Xinjiang and Tibet remained severe. People were arbitrarily detained for ordinary religious practices that authorities deemed ‘signs of extremism’ under the ‘De-extremification Regulations’.”
Article 19 of the UDHR states that “[e]veryone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression,” which includes the “freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Article 20 states that “[e]veryone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association,” and “[n]o one may be compelled to belong to an association.”
On the surface, Chinese law respects those rights.
Article 35 of China’s constitution states that “[c]itizens of the People’s Republic of China shall enjoy freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, procession and demonstration.”
However, Article 51 states that the exercise of those freedoms “shall not undermine the interests of the state, society or collectives, or infringe upon the lawful freedoms and rights of other citizens.”
In practice, China’s government regularly uses vaguely defined notions of state security to stamp out free expression.
The New York City rights group Freedom House noted in its 2021 Freedom in the World report that “China is home to one of the world’s most restrictive media environments and its most sophisticated system of censorship, particularly online.”
The Chinese government maintains strict control over journalists and news outlets, and “harsh penalties” are doled out for comments critical of the CCP or party leaders, the group said. China blocks and/or controls access to a host of websites, smartphone applications, social media outlets and even “apolitical spaces,” including online music stores and dating platforms, Freedom House reported.
Reporters Without Borders’ 2021 World Press Freedom Index ranked China 177th out of 180 countries. According to the press freedom watchdog, “President Xi Jinping’s regime has imposed a social model based on control of news and information and online surveillance of its citizens.”
Reporters Without Borders noted an uptick in Chinese state suppression of the free flow of information since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Amnesty International likewise noted that Chinese authorities “detained or otherwise punished people for revealing details about the COVID-19 outbreak” and censored the internet “to suppress information about COVID-19 and extreme lockdown measures.”
For example, on December 28, 2020, citizen journalist Zhang Zhan was sentenced to four years in prison for her reporting on the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China.
The recent crackdown on freedom of expression in Hong Kong, specifically the targeting of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper for allegedly violating a year-old National Security Law imposed on the city, further demonstrates how the right to free expression is denied.
Tibetans are routinely detained for sharing “counter-revolutionary material,” which “is loosely interpreted as anything that threatens the ‘unity’ of China,” the Taiwan Times reported. Critiquing the CCP while speaking with foreigners, “reactionary” singing and displaying the Tibetan flag are all imprisonable offenses in China.
Meantime, Article 4 of the UDHR states that no one “shall be held in slavery or servitude.” However, on June 24, the United States placed trade restrictions on five Chinese companies for alleged use of forced labor China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, where the Uyghur Muslim minority is monitored and oppressed.
Earlier this month, the Group of Seven, consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, expressed deep concern about “all forms of forced labor in global supply chains.”
It named Xinjiang as the primary region of concern over “state-sponsored forced labor of vulnerable groups and minorities and supply chains of the agricultural, solar, and garment sectors.”
China’s alleged violations involving forced labor also run counter to Article 23, which guarantees the right to “free choice of employment” and “to just and favorable conditions of work.”
China has denied those allegations, launching counter-sanctions of its own.
Article 5 of the UDHR states that “[n]o one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” while Article 9 states that “[n]o one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”
However, there is ample evidence that China has established a vast network of detention facilities in which rights advocates estimate that millions of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been locked up. Inmates are subjected to “brainwashing” in violation of freedom of thought and conscience, rights advocates have said.
China claims these individuals are being held in so-called vocational training facilities as part of counter-terrorism efforts. However, numerous reports show that people are being swept up in the camp system for routine expression of religious faith and other innocuous activities.
Torture and sexual abuse have reportedly been used to suppress Uyghur detainees. Uyghur women have also allegedly been subjected to sterilizations, implantation of intrauterine devices (IUDs) and mandatory birth control. Tibetan women, including nuns, who were imprisoned have recounted victims of sexual violence, severe beatings, use of electric shock and other crude tortures.
Such reports have led to allegations that Chinese authorities are guilty of crimes against humanity and even genocide, a charge Beijing vehemently denies.