His engagement as a “strong spokesperson in the battle for the dissemination of human rights“, an unsolved and dramatic question in China, is among the motivations sustained by the Norwegian Nobelkomité in assigning the recognition for peace to the Chinese activist Liú Xiǎobō (2010). A year after his death, the writer Yedu reminded on amnesty.org that “with his intellect and his charm was a bridge between intellectuals and basic activists“. Active in Tiananmen Square protests (1989), Liú’s life was marked by repressions of the Chinese authorities who, in 1996, sentenced him to a three-year detention to be served in laogai, the forced labor camp system denounced by the Congress US (motion 294/2005) and then by the European Parliament and the German Bundestag, until the final abolition in 2013.
Liu was one of the proponents of Charta 08 (2008), a manifesto signed by 303 Chinese activists and intellectuals on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to promote respect for human rights and democratization in the country. Last May, after a long silence by the international community, the summit between Chinese Premier Lǐ Kèqiáng and German Chancellor Angela Merkel marked a turning point in the case of the paintress Liú Xia, wife of Liú Xiǎobō: detained by eight under house arrest in China, the widow was released from prison and arrived in Germany at the end of July. Will the Sino-German partnership make progress on safeguarding fundamental human rights and freedoms? So far, the Chinese government’s economic and business strategies are only aimed at seeking allies in Europe to counter US tariffs and support the One Belt One Road Initiative (Obor). On the contrary, observance of inescapable conditions in international cooperation, above all respect for human and civil rights, has been largely circumvented.
Chinese repression as a dangerous spider web
The inviolability of the fundamental liberties recognized by the Chinese Constitution – such as the safeguard of press and speech liberty (art.35), religious creed (36), personal dignity (38) and criticism of the authorities (41) – has often been waived, as shown by the arrest in 2015 of the activist head of Human Rights Watch China, Qin Yongmin, reformist politician and promoter of liberal democracy, jailed for “subversion of state order” and recently sentenced to 13 years of imprisonment.
The Chinese legislative system, under Xi Jinping presidency, has strengthened the control in the institutional apparatus and civil society: hitting “flies and tigers“, officials and high bureaucrats, according to the slogan of an anti-corruption campaign (2013), the government aims to reform the governance of Chinese justice, adopting the principle of yifa zhiguo (“administration through the law”), towards greater transparency.
However, the dependence of the judiciary from the executive power and the tightening of national security laws are aimed at “preventing any problems from threatening the regime“, explains in an interview on Le Figaro Samantha Hoffman, researcher at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, adding that “today technologies provide more effective media“. Watchdog activities conducted by citizens and NGOs are under pervasive ‘eyes’ of the authorities. In addition to the frequent censorship of blogs and social networks, over 900 million WeChat users, the main Chinese messaging application, will have to submit to new conditions on processing of personal data (September 2017), while investigations conducted by intelligence are leading to the arrest of intellectuals and activists engaged on the web in the defense of human and civil rights, such as Huang Qi (64tianwang.com), Liu Feiyue (Minsheng Guancha) and Zhen Jianghua (Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders).
Last May, meeting Beijing authorities, Angela Merkel encountered the wife of Wang Quanzhang, lawyer and exponent of the Chinese New Citizens’ Movement, on guard of the strongly persecuted followers of Falun Gong (spiritual discipline considered “an evil cult to weaken the observance of the law” in the regulation approved this year from the Council of State). Also his defender, Yu Wensheng, has been detained. “The escalation of repression in China today raises serious concerns for its well-being,” says the activist Michael Caster to The Guardian. A reality unknown to a large part of Western public opinion.
Geopolitical puzzle of denied rights
At the end of the 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council, High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein criticized China for denying access to representatives of his office in the autonomous regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, “territories in which the human rights situation is constantly and rapidly worsening“. According to the United Nations, many episodes of self-immolation (six last year, 152 in the last decade), are consequence of the repeated abuses suffered by the Tibetan ethnic group “also due to significantly higher rates of poverty, ethnic discrimination and forced relocation” In the “political re-education camps” of Xinjiang, the Turkish and Islamic minority of Uyghurs, accused of religious radicalism, is threatened by forced repatriations and “anti-extremist regulations“, damaging fundamental liberties.
The Chinese attitude is also perpetuated in international institutional bodies. In recent weeks, the New York Times has stigmatized the position taken by Chinese and Russian diplomats, who propose to reduce the number of operators involved in the protection of human rights and in the prevention of sexual abuse and gender affairs in the UN peacekeeping missions. A possible Moscow-Beijing axis, authoritarian and liberticide, may be confirmed by the common positions adopted in the UN Security Council, such as the veto on sanctions to be imposed on Syria for the use of chemical weapons and the condemnation of crimes against humanity, committed by the government Burmese against the Islamic Rohingya minority. “While senior UN officials described the military campaign as ‘ethnic cleansing’ – Human Rights Watch denounces – the Chinese state media supported it as a firm response to ‘Islamic terrorists’.”