China under President Xi Jinping in 2014 mounted a severe attack on the rights of civic groups, lawyers, and others pushing for rule of law, with Beijing’s “open hostility” to critics proving fatal to one activist who died after neglect in detention, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.
The global rights watchdog’s annual survey for 2014 also highlighted mounting abuses in China’s handling of unrest in the Uyghur and Tibetan communities, which have long chafed under rule from Beijing. It said government repression has had the effect of increasing extremism among Uyghurs and discontent among Tibetans.
Human Rights Watch credited Xi’s government for abolishing the policy of Re-education through Labor that led to arbitrary detention and for several other incremental policy reforms, but said China remains a country that “systematically curbs fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion, when their exercise is perceived to threaten one-party rule.”
In 2014, which included the sensitive 25th anniversary of the killings of protestors near Tiananmen Square, Beijing “unleashed an extraordinary assault on basic human rights and their defenders with a ferocity unseen in recent years—an alarming sign given that the current leadership will likely remain in power through 2023,” said the report.
It was the second damning human rights report card for China by international NGOs in two days, after Freedom House placed Beijing near the bottom of an annual index of political and civil rights among 195 countries.
The death last March of grassroots activist Cao Shunli—following her detention for trying to take part in a United Nations Human Rights Council review of China—demonstrates Beijing’s “open hostility” towards human rights activists, it said.
“Activists increasingly face arbitrary detention, imprisonment, commitment to psychiatric facilities, or house arrest. Physical abuse, harassment, and intimidation are routine,” said the report.
Human Rights Watch also lamented “significant slowdowns and in some cases reversals of basic freedoms and democratic progress” last year in Myanmar, where a partial democratic liberalization since 2010 shifting the country away from harsh military rule had spawned optimism.
The group said press freedom and right of assembly had deteriorated in 2014, with the jailing of editors and reporters covering sensitive issues and the passage of laws that could sharply curtail gatherings.
Human Rights Watch voiced concern about communal and ethnic tensions that continue in the wake of deadly violence that included “ethnic cleansing” against Rohingya Muslims in June and October 2012.
“Systematic repression of ethnic Rohingya Muslims in Burma's western Arakan State continued in 2014, especially against 140,000 internally displaced Rohingya forced out of their homes during the violence in 2012,” the report said.
Human Rights Watch said the ultranationalist League to Protect Race and Religion continued to push for laws designed to protect Buddhism but which “appear to be thinly veiled measures to further marginalize Muslim communities.”
Vietnam’s human rights situation remained “critical” in 2014, a year in which the one-party state arrested fewer bloggers than in the previous year, but “the security forces increased various forms of harassment and intimidation of critics,” said the report.
“Independent writers, bloggers, and rights activists face police intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrest, and prolonged detention without access to legal counsel or family visits,” it said, faulting Vietnam’s courts for serving as the ruling party’s tools against critics and delivering predetermined verdicts in trials.
Cambodia suffered “determined and often-violent efforts” by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to suppress protests against “deeply flawed” parliamentary elections the year before, said the report.
“Government officials and judges remained mired in corruption, but almost all were immune from action by courts and the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit, which only targeted petty cases involving those without CPP political protection,” the report said.
Hundreds of people branded as “undesirable” were thrown into drug treatment centers and subject to “torture, sexual violence, and—in at least two centers—forced labor.”
North Korea, listed by Freedom House as among the “worst of the worst” abusers of political and civil rights in world, “remained dire under the control of Kim Jong-Un,” said Human Rights Watch.
“The government uses threats of detention, forced labor, and public executions to generate fearful obedience, and imposes harsh restrictions on freedom of information and movement, both within the country and across its borders,” the report said.