Forced disappearances of lawyers and intensified repression of Tibetans and Uyghurs in China, ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, arbitrary arrests of politicians in Cambodia, and mistreatment of prisoners in Vietnam topped the list of human rights problems in Asia in 2017, according to an annual U.S. State Department report issued on Friday.
“Official repression of the freedoms of speech, religion, movement, association, and assembly of Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas and of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) worsened and were more severe than in other areas of the country,” said the report in its chapter on China.
“In the XUAR officials imposed new regulations, increased severely repressive security measures, and subjected individuals engaged in peaceful expression of political and religious views to arbitrary arrest, detention harassment, and expedited judicial procedures without due process in the name of combatting terrorism and extremism,” said the report, which is mandated by U.S. Congress and which covers every other country in the world.
The July 2015 “709” roundup of more than 300 human rights lawyers and legal aides continued to have ramifications in 2017, with lawyer Wang Quanzhang missing throughout the year and thought to be “held in an undisclosed location without access to an attorney of his choosing,” the report said.
“As of December, Wang’s family had neither seen nor heard from him since his detention, and his friends and family said they did not know whether or not he was still alive,” it said.
“There were multiple reports that lawyers, law associates, and activists detained in the “709” crackdown suffered various forms of torture, abuse, or degrading treatment,” the report said in a separate section about abuse of prisoners.
“Numerous former prisoners and detainees reported they were beaten, subjected to electric shock, forced to sit on stools for hours on end, hung by the wrists, deprived of sleep, force fed, forced to take medication against their will, and otherwise subjected to physical and psychological abuse,” said the report.
Although China denies holding any political prisoners, the report said “authorities, however, continued to imprison citizens for reasons related to politics and religion.”
“Human rights organizations estimated that tens of thousands of political prisoners remained incarcerated, most in prisons and some in administrative detention,” it said, adding that former political prisoners and their families faced continued “surveillance, telephone wiretaps, searches, and other forms of harassment or threats.”
In Myanmar, under its second year of civilian government under de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a main human rights concern was “ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya minority in Rakhine State,”
“In early August some security forces deployed throughout northern Rakhine State, committing enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests and displacing villagers, the majority of whom were Rohingya,” said the report.
Widespread atrocities against Rohingya
The campaign against Rohingya came in response to coordinated deadly attacks on August 25, 2017 against 30 security outposts in northern Rakhine State, for which the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed responsibility.
“Augmented security forces, as well as local vigilante groups acting independently or in concert with security forces, then reportedly committed widespread atrocities against Rohingya villagers, including extrajudicial killings, disappearances, rape, torture, arbitrary arrest, and burning of tens of thousands of homes and some religious structures and other building,” said the State Department.
“This displaced more than 655,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh as of December, as well as an unknown number within Rakhine State, and more than 20,000 villagers from other ethnic groups, many of whom were evacuated by the security forces,” it said.
Beyond Rakhine, the State Department identifies problems including “arbitrary or unlawful killings; politically motivated arrests; authorities’ human rights violations against civilians in other ethnic minority areas and conflict zones, particularly in Kachin State and Shan State; (and) continued harsh conditions in prisons and labor camps.”
It also found restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, and association and intimidation and arrests of journalists, the report said.
“Although the government took some limited actions to prosecute or punish officials responsible for abuses, the vast majority of such abuses continued with impunity,” it added.
In Cambodia, where strongman Hun Sen has ruled for more than 32 years, the most significant rights problems included extrajudicial killings, prisoner abuse in government facilities and “arbitrary arrests by the government, including the warrantless arrest of the (Cambodia National Rescue Party) CNRP leader Kem Sokha.”
Kem Sokha was arrested last September on charges of collaborating with the U.S. to overthrow the government, and the Supreme Court followed in November with a decision to ban the CNRP for its role in his alleged plot, stripping officials of their posts and banning many from politics for five years.
“The Supreme Court’s dissolution of the CNRP on November 16 effectively outlaws any participation in or identification with the party,” said the State Department report.
Cambodia holds general elections on July 29, but the banning of the CNRP, whose parliamentary seats were doled out to small parties loyal to Hun Sen’s Cambodia People’s Party, has turned the contest into a one-party affair and led to calls for a boycott.
In one-party Communist Vietnam, “officials or other agents under the command of the Ministry of Public Security or provincial public security departments committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including reports of at least 15 deaths of persons in custody,” said the report.
“In most cases, authorities either provided little information regarding investigations into the deaths or stated the deaths were the result of suicide or medical problems. Authorities sometimes harassed and intimidated families who questioned the police determination of cause of death,” it said.
“Police, prosecutors, and government oversight agencies seldom conducted investigations of specific reports of mistreatment. Some activists reported receiving death threats from security officials,” the report said.