China is in the midst of its darkest period for human rights since the Tiananmen Square massacre, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said in its annual report.
But 2020 was also the year that world governments pushed back on China’s policies of repression, with less fear of retaliation, the report pointed out.
Worsening persecutions of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Tibet, targeting of whistleblowers, the crackdown on Hong Kong and attempts to cover up the coronavirus outbreak were all part of the deteriorating situation under President Xi Jinping, the HRW said.
“This has been the darkest period for human rights in China since the 1989 massacre that ended the Tiananmen Square democracy movement,” the report said.
“The Chinese government’s authoritarianism was on full display in 2020 as it grappled with the deadly coronavirus outbreak first reported in Wuhan,” the report said, describing the initial cover-up of the outbreak by authorities and the punishment of whistleblower doctors including Li Wenliangand journalists such as Zhang Zhan, who reported on the Wuhan lockdown and on surveillance and harassment of virus victims’ families .
At the same time, “Beijing’s repression – insisting on political loyalty to the Chinese Communist party – deepened across the country”, it said.
“In Xinjiang, Turkic Muslims continue to be arbitrarily detained on the basis of their identity, while others are subjected to forced labour, mass surveillance, and political indoctrination. In Inner Mongolia, protests broke out in September when education authorities decided to replace Mongolian with Mandarin Chinese in a number of classes in the region’s school”
In Tibet, authorities, according to the report continued “to severely restrict religious freedom, speech, movement and assembly, and fail to redress popular concerns about mining and land grabs by local officials, which often involve intimidation and unlawful use of force by security forces”
The 386-page report focused on China in large part because of the international response to worsening repression there. HRW said the rest of the world became more confident in criticising Beijing, having previously feared retaliation.