Human rights in China: Myths and realities

China’s white paper gives an opportunity to analyse how Beijing countered extremism in its most sensitive Xinjiang province

United States and Chinese flags are seen in this illustration taken, on January 30, 2023. — Reuters
United States and Chinese flags are seen in this illustration taken, on January 30, 2023. — Reuters

China’s white paper about its human rights record has opened a new window to its judicial system. At the same time, it gives an opportunity to analyse how Beijing has countered extremism in its most sensitive Xinjiang province.

As Socrates once said: “Intelligent individuals learn from everything and everyone.” Beijing closely observed the spate of terrorism in the region and took instant and strictest measures to nip it in the bud.

However, it was not without attracting the harshest criticism and sanctions against some of its officials involved in actions against Uyghurs and other ethnicities.

According to a report issued by the US Department of State, “these crimes include forced sterilisation, coerced abortions, and more restrictive application of the country’s birth control policies; rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence.”

It is no surprise that Washington has blamed Beijing to the extent that it termed its anti-terrorism measures as “genocide and crimes against humanity”.

Hence, this white paper is, basically, a rebuke to such scathing criticism going on since 2016, when China enacted a counterterrorism law and started deradicalising Xinjian — home to almost 11 million Uyghurs.

China believes that extreme radicalisation or “religious extremism is not religion” as it misrepresents religious doctrines for nefarious designs. So, before taking action, it defined the menace of terrorism.

For Beijing, terrorism is a “proposition or act that by means of violence, sabotage or intimidation, create social panic, undermine public security, violate personal and property rights or coerce state agencies and international organisations, to realise political, ideological or other purposes”.

In order to root out the financial support for terrorism, Beijing also labelled it as a “predicate crime of money laundering”. In the last ten years, it further amended the Criminal Procedure Law and added provisions to the investigation, prosecution, and trial procedures.

Social media, which has incited anti-government activities in some Middle Eastern countries, is also kept under close watch.

Last year, Beijing banned the “production, reproduction, publication and distribution of information online containing content of terrorism and extremism”.

However, Human Rights Watch has labelled these anti-terrorism laws as an attempt to justify crime. For, HRW these acts are being enacted to give security forces a “license to kill” or simply suppress dissent.

Releasing the 740-page World Report 2024, HRW acting director Maya Wang alleged that, “President Xi Jinping’s repressive decade-plus in power and growing social control are taking an increasing toll on China’s economy and society.”

On the other hand, Beijing says that through these “lawful” steps, it has maintained security and stability and punished criminals who plotted terrorist activities across the country. It claims to abide by international conventions and treaties in this regard.

According to the white paper, it is the responsibility of the security agencies to obtain evidence both in favour of and against the suspect and that too without torture.

Rejecting cultural genocidal allegations, it says that ethnic groups can also use their language in legal proceedings.

In all cases, the principle against double punishment is executed to warrant that no suspect is subjected to more than one administrative fine for committing the same offence.

Above all, according to the white paper, “People’s congresses, as bodies of state power, oversee the work of people’s courts and people’s procuratorates by hearing their work reports and conducting special inquires.”

Additionally, persons who are subjected to wrongful penalties can claim state compensation.

Brushing aside criticism, President Xi’s government is of the view that every country should follow an independent path of human rights development. The formula must suit historical and cultural values as well as national conditions.

As one Chinese diplomat said that, “The practices of lecturing and finger-pointing on other’s human rights, while ignoring and failing to solve one’s own serious human rights problems should be rejected.”

Citing Xinjiang, China says its model of human rights is based on development. By uplifting 3.06 million people, it claims to have eradicated poverty from all 3,666 villages and 35 counties.

In 2023, Xinjiang received a record number of 265.44 million tourists, an almost 117% increase on a year-to-year basis. The number of tourists to this autonomous region is almost equal to the total population of Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Spain combined.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi says, “People of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang are living a thriving life as they work in solidarity to build the autonomous region into an economic hub of the Silk Road Economic Belt and establish a pilot free trade zone.”

China has warned its critics against passing judgments, politicising human rights issues, imposing will and interference “on the pretext of defending the rule of law”.

As per the white paper, such actions “have severely hampered the global effort to fight against terrorism, weakened the foundations of cooperation, and reduced operational effectiveness.”

It concluded by expressing readiness to work on anti-terrorism but only on the basis of equality and respect.

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