According to Renée Xia, director of China Human Rights Defenders (CFRD), “2009 stands out as a particularly repressive year in terms of the Chinese government’s aggressive tactics against human rights activists.” Her evidence for the trend is in the 2009 Annual Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in China.
In it she noted the high number of prominent rights advocates arrested last year, people like Liu Xiaobo, co-author of Charter 08 (pictured with his wife), or Huang Qi and Tang Zuoren, who helped parents who lost children in the Sichuan earthquake. Overall, the report’s long list includes internet activists, lawyers defending victims of human rights abuses or representing tainted milk victims, demonstrators or petitioners.
According to the CHRD, last year’s clampdown was due to release of Charter 08 and the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in June.
However, greater repression is largely a function of “the government’s growing economic and international power,” which “has contributed to a rising confidence and assertiveness among China’s leaders, and may have boosted officials’ confidence in pressing particularly hard on human rights defenders in the past year.”
At the same time, China’s economic development is breeding greater corruption, social insecurity, and a widening gap between haves and have-nots. The government’s official plan for a “harmonious society”, so dear to President Hu Jintao, is falling far short off the mark.
Indeed, the government’s own “actions block existing avenues for relieving the social pressures accumulated as a result of these problems,” the CHRD report said.
The net result is “that citizens are becoming disillusioned with China’s legal and petitioning systems, leading to an increase in ‘mass incidents’, protests, online activism, and other ‘unofficial’ means of expressing their grievances.”
Instead of cracking down, the government ought to stop persecuting activists. For the CHRD, the authorities should shut down the labour camps and “black jails” where it imprisons its critics. They should also end internet censorship and ratify the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China signed in 1998 but never ratified.