BEIJING — As the second-largest economy in the world, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is an economic giant. However, despite its political and economic standing on the international stage, human rights in China are under severe scrutiny. Considering its vast landmass and the corresponding disparity between its metropolitan cities and its poor rural areas, the scale of China’s human rights abuses is enormous.
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 states that all humans are “born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The Chinese government’s most extensive contemporary abuse is its control of the internet, which stems from a wider restriction of freedom of speech. Citizens call China’s tight control over freedom of thought and access to information the “Great Firewall of China.” The omnipresent censorship has only increased in recent weeks. Early June saw legislation pass outlawing any online information or posts that the government deems as derogatory or defamatory of “national honor.”
Beyond the internet, those who step outside of the government’s tight line of control are considered an antagonist of the state. The state particularly disenfranchises members of the LGBT community, women and ethnic or religious minorities with an absence of protection by the law. A pertinent example China’s authoritarian tendencies is the denied existence of Tibetan rights of religious and political freedom.
In turn, anyone who comes in aid of alienated individuals suffering persecution face time in jail. The Human Rights Watch reported that since 2015, more than 16 Chinese human rights lawyers have been sent to prison for subversion of state stability. Likewise, journalists detailing protests throughout China faced time in jail for disrupting order.
Given the government’s propensity to punish anyone who acts against it, the future of human rights in China seems bleak. Nevertheless, the very fact that advocates and lawyers face prison time is an indication of the protest that exists within China. Furthermore, a remarkable amount of international organizations and individuals continue to rally together to fight against China’s human rights abuse.
Leaders from prominent international organizations, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) and the U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki Moon, have spoken out against China’s detention of members of civil society who have right to their political voice. Moreover, formal resolutions and statements have been passed by the European Parliament and U.N. Human Rights Council respectively explicitly condemning China’s weak record on civil rights.
Domestically, wives of jailed activists are fighting back against the government. Undeterred by threats by the government, the women initiated online appeals and campaigns to free their husbands and garner attention. They also used public protests to try and barter for information about their spouse’s conditions and whereabouts. These resilient women are an emblem of the rising voices of defiance against a repressive system.
Internationally acclaimed members of the art community have also made it their profession to very literally protest China’s repressive laws. Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, whose work is underpinned by political activism, commented that his art is aimed to “show cruelties, the subtle and the not so subtle.”
Tackling the issue of human rights in China is complex in nature, but very well possible. While the range of human rights abuse is wide, the breadth of the groups of people and individuals fighting back is even greater. The key take away from China’s exploitation of its state power is recognizing that complacency is not an option.
– Sydney Nam