China's human rights crackdown continues: UK doesn't notice

London protest against Xi Jinping
London protest against Xi Jinping

16th December 2015

British government "a laughing stock" over Human Rights Day statement in Beijing

Following the UN's damning report on torture in China this month, the last week has seen further evidence of the Chinese government's increasingly repressive policies. A new report has found that China jails more journalists than any other country. At the same time, Western journalists and senior diplomats have been manhandled in Beijing for trying to attend the trial of a prominent human rights lawyer.

On International Human Rights day last week (10 December), however, the British embassy in China issued a statement praising China for progress on human rights and making no mention of any human rights concerns.

Intimidation of journalists

China has the highest number of jailed journalists in the world for the second year in a row, according to the newly-published report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. At 49, the number is the highest China has seen.

The publication of the report coincides with the intimidation of a French journalist in Beijing. Ursula Gauthier reported on political tensions in Xinjiang, a predominantly Muslim area in northern China where the population faces many of the challenges of religious suppression and cultural destruction that occur in Tibet. After editorials condemning her articles appeared in state media, she faced an onslaught of attacks on Chinese social media, including death threats.

Intimidation of diplomats

This week, leading Chinese civil rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang is on trial in Beijing over a series of social media posts deemed unacceptable by the authorities. The posts included criticism of the government's policies in Tibet and Xinjiang. In 2010, Mr Pu also acted as defence lawyer in a very high profile trial of a Tibetan businessman and environmentalist.

Western journalists attending the trial were refused entry and jostled by a large crowd. The jostling extended to a senior US diplomat Dan Biers. As Mr Biers tried to read a statement outside the court expressing concern over Mr Pu's trial, he was shoved by members of a large crowd. A US journalist wrote:

"the aggression directed by police and plainclothes thugs against diplomats, journalists and the lawyer’s supporters was ... in keeping with the Chinese government’s increasingly defiant stance on questions of human rights.”

UK embassy turns blind eye to abuses

China's increasingly repressive policies - including the arrest and intimidation of hundreds of human rights lawyers - have been the subject of concern and condemnation among many Western governments. On International Human Rights Day, the US, Germany and Canada all issued statements including criticisms of China's stance on human rights.

In contrast, the British Embassy's statement praised China for it's work on poverty alleviation and welfare and for "taking strides to better protect civil and political rights by abolishing re-education through labour" and aiming to "produce a more transparent and professional justice system."

Rather than highlighting specifc human rights concerns, the statement quoted the UK-China joint statement issued during Chinese president Xi Jinping's visit to the UK that "there is always room for improvement".

A leading British Beijing correspondent later tweeted:

"Fair to say that among many in Beijing's diplomatic community, statement has made British embassy a laughing stock".