Human Rights Watch (HRW), an independent international organization established in 1978, is an organization that, according to its website, “works to uphold human dignity and advance the cause of human rights for all.” HRW released its 32nd annual report on Jan. 13 which summarizes human rights conditions in over 100 countries and territories worldwide in 2021.
The report dedicates over 15-pages to discuss the human rights situation currently unfolding in China, asserting that “With President Xi Jinping at the helm, the Chinese government doubled down on repression inside and outside the country in 2021.”
Priority concerns documented include the conditions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the Chinese government’s handling of the COVID-19 epidemic, and the regime’s crackdown on freedom of expression and religion.
Hong Kong and Xinjiang
“Beijing and Hong Kong authorities moved aggressively to roll back rights in Hong Kong,” the report reads.
The report details how pro-democracy activists were arbitrarily arrested and detained in the city in 2021 noting an incident where authorities arrested 53 politicians for “subversion” for their involvement in a July 2020 public opinion poll.
Hong Kong authorities, wielding the contentious National Security Law (NSL) which was adopted in Hong Kong in June 2020, arrested 150 people throughout the year for various perceived infractions including the broadly interpreted crime of “conspiracy to incite subversion.”
HRW observed that In 2021, democratic institutions in Hong Kong, that once differentiated the city from the mainland, were transformed “into rubber-stamp bodies.”
Democratic movements in Hong Kong were stymied after “In March , Beijing imposed ‘electoral reforms,’ requiring that only those loyal to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could win a seat in Hong Kong’s legislature.”
The report also blasts the CCP for “committing crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang.”
The abuses committed include “mass arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances, mass surveillance, cultural and religious persecution, separation of families, forced returns to China, forced labor, and sexual violence and violations of reproductive rights.”
Uyghurs are disappearing into Xinjinag’s abusive system under a campaign intended to “strike hard” against “violent terrorism.”
A notable individual caught up in the system is prominent academic Rahile Dawut, whose alleged crime, length of sentence, and location of imprisonment remain unclear.
Highlighted are the deaths of several individuals while in detention in Xinjiang including biotech researcher Mihriay Erkin, 31, businessman Yaqub Haji, 45, and poet and publisher Haji Mirzahid Kerimi, 82.
COVID-19 in China
The CCP’s approach to managing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was a major focus of this year’s HRW report. The report notes that there were at least 663 arrests of people for COVID-19-related speech in China in 2021.
The arrested include retired professor, Chen Zhaozhi, who was put on trial for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” for posting on social media, “The Wuhan pneumonia is not a Chinese virus, but Chinese Communist Party virus.”
Other activists who were imprisoned for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” include Chen Mei and Cai Wei, who were both sentenced to 15 months in prison. The harsh sentences were handed down to the duo in August for “archiving censored online articles and social media posts about the pandemic.”
The report highlights the case of imprisoned citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who reportedly has become seriously ill following a hunger strike. Zhang was sentenced to four years in prison after travelling to Wuhan in February 2020 to document the early days of the pandemic. Missing citizen journalist Fang Bin was also highlighted.
China’s nationwide COVID-19 vaccination campaign was flagged as extremely problematic. While the communist regime insists that the scheme is voluntary, numerous complaints have surfaced concerning local authorities’ abusive tactics to drive up vaccination rates.
Cases of police physically restraining people to forcibly inoculate them have surfaced as well as reports of local governments suspending benefits for anyone who refused vaccination including threatening students’ school enrollment.
Freedom of expression and religion
“Authorities harassed, detained, or prosecuted numerous people for their online posts and private chat messages critical of the government, bringing trumped-up charges of ‘spreading rumors,’ ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble,’ and ‘insulting the country’s leaders,’” the report reads.
At least 58 Chinese internet users have been imprisoned in the country since 2017 with sentences ranging between six months and four years. The harsh sentences were handed down for posting content critical of the Chinese regime to popular social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube; platforms that are banned in China.
Numerous people were also punished for speech deemed “unpatriotic.” In February of 2021, at least seven people were detained after they commented on a border clash with Indian troops and former journalist Qiu Ziming was sentenced to eight months in prison for suggesting that the death toll following the clash was higher than the official figure.
In March, Chinese authorities passed a provision “stipulating that slandering ‘heroes and martyrs’ could be punished with up to three years in prison.”
While the CCP espouses state atheism, China officially recognizes only five religions “in officially approved premises, and authorities retain control over personnel appointments, publications, finances and seminary applications.”
In 2016, President Xi called for “Sinicization” of all religions. The move was intended to ensure that the CCP is the arbiter of people’s spiritual life.
In May of 2021 four employees from a company that sold audio devices that broadcasted the Bible were sentenced between 15 months and six years for “operating an illegal business.” In July, five members of an “unauthorized house church” in Shanxi province were detained on suspicion of “illegally crossing the border” after attending a religious conference in Malaysia.
“Authorities continued efforts to alter the architectural style of mosques and landmarks to make them look more “Chinese” across the country, while Hui Muslim activists said police had harassed them for criticizing the policy,” the report reads.