The ruling Chinese Communist Party under President Xi Jinping has become “increasingly repressive,” amid ever-tightening controls on the media, online speech, religious groups, and civil society, according to an annual report from U.S.-based freedom-of-speech watchdog Freedom House.
China’s president “is consolidating personal power to a degree not seen in China for decades,” amid ongoing arrests and criminal prosecutions of bloggers, activists, human rights lawyers, and religious believers, the report found.
Xi’s “new era,” will bring with it further increases in party controls over information, society, culture, the military, and the economy, the report said, adding that the president’s emphasis on a growing international role for China means the likely export of authoritarian ideology to other developing countries.
“China and Russia ... have seized the opportunity … to export their malign influence to other countries, which are increasingly copying their behavior and adopting their disdain for democracy,” Freedom House reported, adding that freedom is on the decline around the world.
“It is a path that includes politicized courts, intolerance for dissent, and predetermined elections,” it said.
Meanwhile, a massive program of incarceration and surveillance of ethnic minority, mostly Muslim Uyghurs and Kazakhs in China’s Xinjiang region has boosted an “already massive” security presence, it said.
In addition, new and draconian restrictions on religious practice of any kind, particularly by children, have affected Muslim and Christian communities alike, it said.
The report warned that China and Russia “must squelch open debate, pursue dissidents, and compromise rules-based institutions beyond their borders” in order to maintain power at home, calling on citizens and leaders of democracies to take action to defend the rights of all citizens.
“The reality of globalization is that our fates are interlinked,” it said.
'Persecution has gotten far worse'
Anhui-based rights activist and former state prosecutor Shen Liangqing said the report’s assessment was accurate.
“Of course we have had the suppression of religious groups, dissidents and rights activists all along in an authoritarian country like ours; that has never stopped,” Shen said. “But there have been big variations at different times in how aggressively they are pursued.”
“The persecution has gotten far worse in the past few years, and the overall trend seems to be that it keeps on getting worse,” he said.
“This has to do with ideological leadership coming from the highest levels; now it seems that we are taking things further even than during the Mao era, strengthening his dictatorship.”
Freedom House said traditional freedoms in Hong Kong, a former British colony promised a “high degree of autonomy” under Chinese rule, also seem to be on the decline, with the city’s freedom score dropping from 61 last year to 59 this year, compared with China’s score of just 14/100.
Hong Kong political commentator Wu Yisan said Xi’s administration appears to have dispensed with the promises of autonomy made to the city ahead of the 1997 handover.
“They’re not keeping the promise made by [late supreme leader] Deng Xiaoping, that ... Hong Kong people will run Hong Kong by themselves,” Wu said. “There has been a rolling back of all of that.”
“Now it seems that any Chinese official of whatever rank can stick their oar in and mouth off about Hong Kong’s business,” he said.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.