In 2015, Chinese police arrested Wang Quanzhang, a civil rights attorney and one of more than two hundred attorneys, journalists, and civil rights activists arrested in what’s become known as the 709 crackdown.1 Most of those jailed were released after officers extracted “confessions,” often via torture and forced medication. Not Quanzhang, though. He refused to confess, even after at least five months of relentless torture. Only after nearly three years of being held incommunicado was he allowed access to a lawyer—before being convicted and forced to finish a four-and-a-half-year sentence. In early 2019, Doriane Lau, China researcher at Amnesty International, said, “In the three years leading up to his sham of a trial, the authorities disappeared Wang Quanzhang into a black hole . . . Wang’s family, who continue to be harassed by the authorities, didn’t even know if he was alive until recently.”2

Such rights violations—and much worse—are common in China, despite the country’s constitution, which declares that “The State respects and preserves human rights.”3 For instance, in 2017, the Chinese Communist Party established the Xinjiang “reeducation” camps, where hundreds of thousands—some estimate as many as three million—Muslims, Christians, and ethnic minorities have been interned without charges or trial and forced to labor and endure endless hours of communist propaganda.4 Or take another example: In 2018, cops busted into the home of Sun Wenguang, a retired economics professor, and forced him to end a live broadcast in which he was criticizing the economic policies of Xi Jinping. Authorities later held him under house arrest, forcing his wife to tell inquirers that he was traveling so as to dispel suspicion.5

Those who manage to leave the country are pressured—under threat to their families back in China—not to publicly criticize the regime. After Chinese Canadian actress Anastasia Lin criticized Chinese authoritarianism, the government revoked Hong Kong visas for her uncle and grandparents.6 All this because, although China may claim to “respect and preserve human rights,” it subordinates them to the socialist state, declaring, “citizens of the People’s Republic of China, in exercising their freedoms and rights, may not infringe upon the interests of the State, of society or of the collective.”7 . . .

Endnotes

1. Mimi Lau, “Freed Chinese Human Rights Lawyer Wang Quanzhang to Challenge Subversion Conviction,” South China Morning Post, May 11, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3083720/freed-chinese-human-rights-lawyer-wang-quanzhang-challenge.

2. Lily Kuo, “Wang Quanzhang: China Sentences Human Rights Lawyer to Four Years in Prison,” The Guardian, January 27, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/28/wang-quanzhang-china-sentences-human-rights-lawyer-to-four-years-in-prison.

3. Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, full text after amendment on March 14, 2004, The National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China, http://www.npc.gov.cn/zgrdw/englishnpc/Constitution/2007-11/15/content_1372963.htm (accessed July 8, 2020).

4. Ben Westcott, “Huge Leaks Are Exposing Xinjiang’s Re-education Camps, but Don’t Expect Beijing to Back Down,” CNN, December 2, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/26/asia/china-xinjiang-leaks-analysis-intl-hnk/index.html.

5. Alexandra Ma, “A Renegade Chinese Professor Who Was Forced Off-Air While Criticizing the Government Says He Was Locked in His Apartment and Told to Make up a Story That He Left Town,” Business Insider, August 14, 2018, https://www.businessinsider.com/sun-wenguang-china-critic-claims-locked-in-home-2018-8?r=UK.

6. Alexandra Ma, “Barging into Your Home, Threatening Your Family, or Making You Disappear: Here’s What China Does to People Who Speak Out against Them,” Business Insider, August 19, 2018, https://www.businessinsider.com/how-china-deals-with-dissent-threats-family-arrests-2018-8.

7. Constitution of the People’s Republic of China.

8. “English translation of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,” XinhuaNet, July 7, 2020, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-07/01/c_139178753.htm.

9. Helen Regan and Joshua Berlinger, “Protests Break Out in Hong Kong as First Arrest Made under New Security Law,” CNN, July 1, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/01/china/hong-kong-national-security-law-july-1-intl-hnk/index.html.

10. Kim Lyons, “Google, Facebook, and Twitter Halt Government Data Requests after New Hong Kong Security Law, Verge, July 6, 2020, https://www.theverge.com/2020/7/6/21314900/google-facebook-twitter-hong-kong-government-data-china.

11. Ben Lovejoy, “WhatsApp and Telegram Will Not Hand Over User Data to Hong Kong Authorities,” 9TO5Mac, July 6, 2020, https://9to5mac.com/2020/07/06/whatsapp-and-telegram/.

[12] Ina Fried, “TikTok to Pull Out of Hong Kong,” Axios, July 7, 2020, https://www.axios.com/tiktok-to-pull-out-of-hong-kong-e253eb02-69e9-4abb-a5c2-28ffa196a9a0.html.

13. For more on government efforts to regulate social media companies, see my article “Social Media and the Future of Civil Society” in The Objective Standard 15, no. 1 (Spring 2020), https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/2020/02/social-media-and-the-future-of-civil-society/.

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