Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a scathing assessment of China in its 2020 World Report on Tuesday, accusing Beijing of using its economic and diplomatic leverage to carry out the "most intense attack" ever on the international system for protecting human rights.
HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said in a statement that China has developed an "Orwellian high-tech surveillance state and a sophisticated internet censorship system to monitor and suppress public criticism," while using economic clout to silence critics abroad.
The HRW report was launched at the United Nations headquarters in New York, two days after Roth was denied entry to Hong Kong where he had been expected to launch the report during a news conference.
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Instead, according to China's Foreign Ministry, Roth was barred from entering the semi-autonomous Chinese region due to HRW's support of pro-democracy demonstrations there.
The World Report 2020 is HRW's 30th annual review of human rights practices around the world, summarizing key issues from more than 100 countries from late 2018 through November 2019.
Chinese human rights violations have come under the spotlight in 2019, especially following the release of documents outlining the systematic internment of Muslim-minority Uighurs in the northwestern Xinjiang region.
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A 'dystopian future'
HRW also warned that the Chinese government under President Xi Jinping sees domestic human rights activism as an "existential threat" and projects that perceived threat onto international laws and institutions defending human rights.
In response, HRW said Chinese authorities try to censor criticism of China overseas, divert attention from human rights issues in international forums and weaken global rights mechanisms.
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"If not challenged, Beijing's actions portend a dystopian future in which no one is beyond the reach of Chinese censors, and an international human rights system so weakened that it no longer serves as a check on government repression," said Roth.
“Beijing has long suppressed domestic critics," Roth said. “Now the Chinese government is trying to extend that censorship to the rest of the world. Governments need to act together to resist Beijing's assault on the international human rights system."
Last month, China announced sanctions on HRW and other US-based NGOs in response to the US Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which supports the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and threatens China with sanctions for human rights abuses.
At the launch event of the HRW report, a Chinese UN diplomat criticized Roth and said the report was full of "prejudice and fabrications." He added that Beijing rejected the report's content, and that HRW failed to mention that China has lifted 700 million people out of poverty.
However, Roth said that it is exactly this growing Chinese wealth which scares the ruling authorities.
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"Despite decades of impressive economic growth in China, driven by hundreds of millions of people finally emancipated to lift themselves out of poverty, the Chinese Communist Party is running scared of its own people," Roth said.
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wmr/se (Reuters, AFP, dpa)