Japan News: Xi’s canny way of suppressing human rights

The Japan News
By Kazuhiko Makita
2:13 pm, August 22, 2016

■ In China earlier this month, four people — human rights lawyers and activists — were convicted for subverting state power. It has been over three years since the inauguration of the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping, and three changes have become apparent in the way the Communist regime suppresses human rights activities.

Video confessions

On Aug. 1, lawyer Wang Yu, who had been detained since July last year, suddenly appeared in a videotaped interview with a Hong Kong media outlet. She was believed to have been released on bail. Wang appeared in front of the camera and declared that her “activities to date have been wrong,” acknowledging her mistake of having engaged in human rights activities.

Some believe that the regime had used her family to pressure Wang. Similar confessions in the media by “political prisoners” are nothing new under the Xi regime. There has been a series of public confessions from high-ranking officials exposed as corrupt.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Xi administration’s aim is to foster the impression that activists — who have opposed the one-party regime and called for the right to free speech since the 1989 Tiananmen incident, in which the student democracy movement was suppressed by armed forces — are no more than criminals.

A member of a diplomatic group monitoring China’s human rights situation says activists whose confessions are aired in the media are effectively rendered powerless by the process, and that even when they return to society they are unable to continue with their former activities. The aim of the regime is to cause the disintegration of human rights activities, the source says.

Punishments made public

Under the previous administration of President Hu Jintao, when activists were detained they would typically “go missing” all of a sudden. The then “reeducation through labor” system was utilized so that detainees could be held for a long period of time without access to the judicial process. It is said that in some cases detainees were subjected to harsh interrogation and physical torture.

A human rights activist in Beijing said the behind-closed-doors suppression by the Chinese government was derived from a sense of inferiority to the West, which was keeping its eye on China’s human rights situation. However, in 2013 the Xi regime abolished the system. Instead, they claimed to introduce a full commitment to the rule of law.

To illustrate this new approach, the trials of four activists who had been detained with Wang at the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court — a district court — held on Aug. 2-5 emphasized transparency.

Zhou Shifeng, 51, director of the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, to which Wang belonged, was sentenced to seven years in prison. Activist Hu Shigen, 60, who had participated in the pro-democracy movement in the 1990s and been imprisoned at the time, was sentenced to 7½ years.

Two other activists were also convicted and received suspended sentences.

Official media outlets, including the state-run Xinhua News Agency, and the court made public the details of the detention, prosecution and judicial decisions regarding the four activists.

This trend has become quite clear after the crackdown on the New Citizens Movement, which has been influential since about 2010 as it seeks to advocate for human rights within the framework of China’s current Constitution.

The founder of the movement, Xu Zhiyong, was taken into custody in July 2013, sentenced in January 2014 and in April 2014 had his sentence upheld at the Beijing Municipal High People’s Court. In his case, the authorities and the media did not make public his indictment or the details of the judicial proceedings, and the trial was held behind closed doors.

The tide turned with the handling of the cases of journalist Gao Yu, who was detained in April 2014 for allegedly passing state secrets to foreigners, and human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who in May that year was detained after attending an event about the Tiananmen incident.

Making public the judicial proceedings against noted activists serves as a form of intimidation aimed at other activists, and since it is ostensibly based on the rule of law, it can be seen as a good reason to reject interference from the West.

According to an analysis by a human rights lawyer, the Xi regime increased its use of force and it seems to have realized that publicizing their crackdowns actually makes them more effective.

Little concern about pressure

In the past, it was typical for China’s Communist regime to pursue crackdowns on those advocating human rights while also making some concessions out of consideration for concerns from the West.

A prominent example is the case of blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who escaped from house arrest in Shandong Province during the Hu administration in April 2014, fled to the U.S. Embassy, and ended up effectively living as an exile in the United States.

After U.S.-China strategic and economic talks in which Chen’s treatment was a focal point, the Chinese government allowed him to leave China to study in the United States.

However, there is no sign of the Xi administration yielding in response to expressions of concern from the West about human rights in China.

Now that economic ties between China and the West are stronger, it is unlikely that the West will impose economic sanctions on China as it did after the Tiananmen incident.

A source related to the Chinese Communist Party reveals a change in attitude, saying: “The gap between China and the United States is narrowing in both the economic and military fields. We no longer need to consider so much what the United States says.”

A lawyer has suggested that human rights activities are at a crossroads, saying that “this year things are unusually quiet.”

The network of lawyers and activists has certainly been weakened after repeated crackdowns. There is a dominant view that activists who live in exile in the West are losing influence within China. The Xi regime is making strenuous efforts to eliminate foreign influence on nongovernmental organizations.

The human rights movement in China has been supported by the West as they share the common values of fundamental human rights and democracy. Perceiving it as a threat, the Communist regime has cracked down on the movement in the fear that these values might take hold within the nation.

China clearly perceives that the West attaches greater importance to economic relations and has no choice but to give less weight to human rights issues. This reality now presents the West with the issue of how to deal with a country so different from themselves going forward.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 13, 2016)

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