22:22, January 14 231 0 theguardian.com

2020-01-14 22:22:04
'Orwellian' China silencing dissent at home and abroad, says human rights chief



The head of Human Rights Watch has accused the Chinese government of not only constructing “an Orwellian high-tech surveillance state” at home but using its growing economic clout to silence critics abroad.

Kenneth Roth said on Tuesday that China was carrying out “the most intense attack on the global system for enforcing human rights since that system began to emerge in the mid-20th century”.

He warned that if human rights weren’t defended, the world could face “a dystopian future in which no one is beyond the reach of Chinese censors”, with a global rights system so weakened that it can no longer serve as a check on government repression.

Roth was speaking at the UN Correspondents Association in New York after being denied entry to Hong Kong, where he had been scheduled to release the rights group’s annual report. It begins with his keynote essay entitled China’s Global Threat to Human Rights.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, said on Monday that: “It is China’s sovereignty to allow one’s entry or not.”

He indicated that Human Rights Watch is among organisations that support and instigate “anti-China activists ... to engage in radical violent crimes, and incite separatist activities hyping Hong Kong independence.”

“These organisations deserve sanctions and must pay a price,” he said.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, asked on Tuesday about Roth’s denial of entry to Hong Kong, said: “In principle, we support the rights and work of human rights defenders around the world.”

Chinese diplomat Xing Jisheng, who attended the UN press launch, spoke at the end and said the was report “very prejudicial”, saying it has “fabrications” and telling journalists “we completely reject the content”.

In the essay, Roth said the Chinese Communist Party is “worried that permitting political freedom would jeopardise its grasp on power” and “is running scared of its own people”.

“The consequence under President Xi Jinping is China’s most pervasive and brutal oppression in decades,” he said.

To avoid a global backlash against its surveillance, internet censorship and oppression at home, Roth said the government was trying to undermine international institutions designed to protect human rights.

Roth criticised UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, saying despite the UN’s central role in promoting human rights, he has been “unwilling to publicly demand an end to China’s mass detention of Turkic Muslims, while heaping praise on Beijing’s economic prowess”.

Roth said the report showed China wasn’t the only threat to human rights, pointing to serious violations by the warring parties in Syria and Yemen.

He also cited “autocratic populists” who come to power by demonising minorities and retain it by attacking independent journalists, judges and activists who try to provide checks and balances on their rule.

“Some leaders, such as US president Donald Trump, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, and Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, bridle at the same body of international human rights law that China undermines,” Roth said.

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