China is experiencing one of its darkest times of the past few decades for human rights defenders. Nearly 250 lawyers and activists were arrested or detained for interrogation by the Chinese authorities in the month of July. Another 20 are missing.
The government of President Xi Jinping, in power since 2013 and firmly supported by the state media, claims that these people are members of “criminal groups” who use litigation to enrich themselves and attack the Communist Party. According to local organizations, many of the detainees have been forced to make humiliating statements on national state television.
In September 2014, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a statement on the severe human rights situation in the country and asked the Chinese government to immediately release three prominent lawyers who are being charged with allegedly inciting subversion.
According to the activist Teng Biao, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the arrests are arbitrary and occurred because the Communist Party fears a greater proximity between rights activists and the Chinese population. Biao gave a talk at the TEDx event held during the 13th International Human Rights Colloquium in 2013, when he spoke about the difficulties of working as a human rights defender in the country.
“They [the activists] have garnered more and more support from the population and are more organized. [This is why] they are viewed by the Chinese Communist Party as a profound threat. The party has an exaggerated fear of a color revolution,” he said in an exclusive interview with Conectas.
The founder and president of China Against the Death Penalty and co-founder of the Open Constitution Initiative, Biao claimed that the families of the detained human rights defenders have been threatened so they do not talk to the international media. He also drew attention to the fact that some of the activists were being held in secret detention centers.
The climate of repression in the country has forced many activists who were not arrested to keep silent. Moreover, said Biao, there are frequent cases of assault, arbitrary detention, disappearances and even torture that are not reported by the press. Members of NGOs and religious groups, hackers, university students, lawyers and journalists, he said, are the main targets.
Teng Biao has no doubts about the government’s real purpose: to completely destroy the human rights movement and organized civil society in China. “We are concerned about the possibility that Xi Jinping will take China back to a system of totalitarianism and barbarism,” he concluded.
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