A report issued by an international rights group on Thursday takes aim at strongmen leaders around the world, including China’s President Xi Jinping, whom it contends have asserted their own authority as a guarantor of peace and prosperity over that of government accountability and the rule of law.
In its 687-page report which examines human rights practices in 2016 in more than 90 countries, New York-based Human Rights Watch said the outlook for freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and religion “remains dire” under Xi Jinping who will be in power in China until 2022 and possibly longer.
The report entitled “World Report 2017: Demagogues Threaten Human Rights” noted that in February 2016, Xi Jinping visited three major state media organizations and called on them to pledge absolute loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party.
It also cited the Chinese government’s passage of a cybersecurity law that HRW says will “strangle online freedom and anonymity,” further clampdowns on media outlets whose reports don’t toe the Communist Party line, and other directives that tighten control over the internet.
“China's Xi Jinping, like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, has pursued the toughest crackdown on critical voices in two decades,” write HRW’s executive director Kenneth Roth in the report’s introductory essay.
The report said Chinese authorities continue to detain most of the more than 16 rights lawyers rounded up during a nationwide sweep of rights advocates in July 2015.
The report also noted the enforced disappearances of Hong Kong booksellers who sold publications that were critical of the Chinese government, and Beijing’s interference in a court case in the special administrative region last November that HRW says undermined judicial independence and the territory’s autonomy.
The report went on to cite China’s continued repression of ethnic minority Uyghurs in the country’s northwestern Xinjiang region and of Tibetans in its western Tibet region by restricting their political activities and peaceful expressions of ethnic and religious identities.
“Worried as well that popular discontent would rise as economic growth slowed, Xi, too, has embarked on the most intense crackdown since the Tiananmen era, leaving his government even less accountable,” Roth wrote, in a reference to the bloody suppression of students and other activists by the Chinese government in June 1989.
“Despite anointing himself with a lengthening list of leadership titles, this strongman looks increasingly fearful, while not delivering on the Chinese people’s demands for cleaner air, safer food, a just judicial system, and an accountable government,” he said.
North Korea, Cambodia, and Myanmar
North Korea continues to be one of the most repressive authoritarian nations in the world under seven decades of rule by the Kim family and the Worker’s Party of Korea, the report said.
Current leader Kim Jong Un has used public executions, arbitrary detentions, and forced labor to ensure obedience to the regime. He also firmed up travel restrictions in 2016 to prevent North Koreans from escaping and seeking refuge overseas, it said.
In Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) “significantly escalated persecution on political grounds” directed at the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), rights workers, social activists, and intellectuals, the report said.
The actions have been intended to prevent the CNRP from winning in local elections in 2017 and national elections in 2018, which would unseat strongman Hun Sen who has ruled the country for 31 years.
The report noted that CNRP president Sam Rainsy remained in exile in 2016 after he decided not to return to Cambodia when the government said it would enforce a two-year prison sentence against him on trumped-up charges.
It also noted another such case of political retribution involving the CNRP’s acting leader Kem Sokha who was convicted by a Phnom Penh court for disregarding a court summons to appear as a witness against two CNRP legislators on cooked-up charges.
Myanmar, which began what appeared to be a promising political transition last April with the election of the civilian-led government under the National League for Democracy (NLD), has been stymied by ongoing clashes between the national armed forces and ethnic guerilla groups in Shan and Kachin states, the report said.
The report called a security crackdown by armed forces in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state following deadly attacks on border guard posts last October “the most serious humanitarian and human rights crisis” to have occurred there since an October 2012 “ethnic cleansing” campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
The security sweep in the northern part of Rakhine has forced tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee their homes to neighboring Bangladesh, where some have accused Myanmar soldiers of committing atrocities against them, including murder, torture, rape and arson. The government and army have denied the charges.