Chinese laws further suppress and squeeze out civil society

Association

Civil society has expressed serious concern over China’s new law on national security. The National People's Congress (NPC) released the draft National Intelligence Law on 16th May 2017 for the public's commentary through 4th June. Rights group the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) believes that the law aims to conduct surveillance of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) by expanding the power of state intelligence agencies. On 24th May 2017, CHRD issued a statement on concerns about the new law. The provisions in question would require the following:

  • All Chinese citizens must collaborate with national intelligence collection; 
  • Intelligence agents can use “necessary means”; and 
  • Intelligence agencies can collect information on foreign groups and individuals operating in China that allegedly fund, incite or implement acts that “endanger national security,” or domestic groups or individuals “colluding” with foreigners inside China.

CHRD declared:

"In its current draft form, the intelligence law further infringes the rights to free expression, association, and peaceful assembly in China. President Xi Jinping has escalated his crackdowns on civil society and prosecuted lawyers and activists for promoting and protecting human rights as 'endangering national security'. International NGOs operating in China have been treated as 'hostile foreign forces'." 

CHRD has urged the NPC to eliminate or revise key provisions in the National Intelligence Law to ensure the protection of Chinese citizens and foreign nationals’ human rights. International organisations, foreign NGOs and like-minded governments can raise their concerns with officials at all levels of the Chinese government.

In addition to the current draft law, other laws adopted in the last few years have tightened the government’s control over civil society, including the Counter-Espionage Law (2014), National Security Law (2015), Counter-Terrorism Law (2015), Overseas NGO Law (2016), and Cyber-Security Law (2016).

In another statement on 31st May, CHRD demanded that the government release human rights defenders (HRDs) who participated in the 1989 protests. After the Chinese government’s bloody crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in 1989, many HRDs remain imprisoned for their efforts to promote human rights, rule of law and democratic reforms. Some of these individuals played leadership roles in organising the 1989 protests as young students, professors, journalists, writers or factory workers. 

CHRD specifically urged the Chinese government to: 

  • End its ban on public discussions and commemoration of the victims of the Tienanmen Square Massacre;
  • Allow independent investigations and hold those responsible for the massacre accountable; 
  • End its ongoing crackdown on civil society and human rights activism; and
  • Free HRDs from prison, detention, suspended sentencing or residential surveillance. 

The criminalisation of HRDs' efforts is pervasive in China. According to CHRD’s monitoring, almost one-third of imprisoned HRDs since 2013 have been convicted of crimes that “endanger state security”. By implementing another law legalising surveillance and persecution of HRDs in the name of national security (see section above), China defiantly disregards the UN Human Rights Council Resolution (HRC 27/31), which calls for the “creation and maintenance of a safe and enabling environment for civil society”.

Peaceful Assembly

On 10th May 2017, there was a moment of victory for residents protesting against a waste incinerator plant in the southern province of Guangdong. Due to their mass protests over several days, authorities in Guangdong decided to cancel plans to build the plant near Qingyuan city. However, there were reports of clashes between local residents and riot police during the demonstrations. The police reportedly fired tear gas into the crowd and rounded up protesters en masse. Local residents also reported that the police injured a number of people and detained more than one hundred. The news outlets did not extensively cover the protests because the authorities had cut off local internet access. As one resident declared, 

"That's what they always do: they crack down, they won't allow demonstrations, and then they stop any information getting out".

Expression

The University of Maryland chose Chinese citizen and 2017 graduate, Yang Shuping, to give a speech at this year's graduation ceremony. Shuping spoke of the fresh air and freedom to speak out in the United States. She said she had never dreamed it was possible to openly discuss issues such as racism, sexism and politics, because in China “only the authorities owned the narrative”. Her speech was well-received by fellow students; however, she faced severe backlash from her native country. China’s nationalist tabloid, The Global Times, labeled her an unpatriotic traitor who had belittled her homeland. Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily also accused her of “bolstering negative stereotypes about China”. 

The Epoch Times explained that the furious reactions from China were an example of how “patriotic” Chinese react when anyone criticises the country. In their eyes, criticism is considered betrayal.

As a result of the public vilification, the recent graduate apologised, deleted all her posts, disabled both her Weibo and Facebook accounts, and then disappeared. “I’m sincerely sorry for the speech and hope to be forgiven,” she wrote, adding that she had not intended to “insult” her country.

From 1st June 2017, new rules on Cyber Security Law governing news content on various internet platforms came into effect. The law fulfills the Communist Party of China's (CCP) main objective to create “stability and order”. To this end, however, the CCP has stifled the media and prevented the establishment of a sustainable and strong independent media environment as the think tank - Cato Institute - warned:

“China has allowed greater economic freedom, which has enabled millions of individuals to lift themselves and their families out of poverty, but the CCP’s monopoly on power has prevented a corresponding expansion in freedom of the press—even though Article 35 of the PRC Constitution states that ‘Citizens … enjoy the freedom of speech”.