BEIJING (AFP) – Rights campaigners in China are facing a “new wave of frenzied repression” after an anonymous online call for anti-government rallies echoing those in the Arab world, a Hong Kong-based group said Thursday.
The Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a network of activists, made the statement as it released its annual report for 2010, which catalogues a litany of alleged rights abuses, from web curbs to detentions to claims of torture.
The group called on Beijing to release all rights activists including jailed Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, investigate security personnel accused of rights violations and guarantee free expression and unfettered Internet access.
“The fact that Liu is serving an 11-year prison sentence for engaging in peaceful advocacy for human rights and democracy also highlights the severe repression that those engaging in human rights activism can face,” CHRD said.
“The regime is once again reacting with a new wave of frenzied repression targeting these activists after the call for ‘Jasmine Revolution’,” the group’s international director Renee Xia said in a statement accompanying the report.
“The international community must do more — it must provide sustained and concrete support to these activists by speaking up for them and providing them with resources as they inch forward in the struggle for their freedoms.”
Authorities in China have become increasingly nervous about the Internet’s power to mobilise ordinary citizens in the wake of unrest in the Arab world, and the subsequent online call for anti-government “Jasmine” rallies at home.
CHRD’s 24-page report said the Internet was vital to activists as a tool for spreading information and organising protests but said it was “the principal arena where the battles for freedom of expression were fought out” in 2010.
The group noted attacks on the websites of activist groups including its own, the shutdown of activist blogs and microblogs, the suspension of their web access and changes to the “state secrets” law that put web campaigners at risk.
It described the Internet blackout in China’s far-western Xinjiang region — where deadly ethnic violence erupted in July 2009 — as “the most extensive and protracted electronic communications shutdown in the Internet era in China”.
The Chinese government has expended tremendous resources to police the web, blocking anti-government postings and other politically sensitive material with a system known as the “Great Firewall of China.”
Foreign social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are officially blocked, yet are accessed by some of China’s world-topping 457 million Internet users via proxy servers.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month renewed a call for global Internet freedom, pointing at China as one of several countries that restrict web access, impose censorship or arrest bloggers who criticise the government.
CHRD condemned restrictions on the right to freedom of association, saying those curbs worsened during “sensitive” periods such as in the weeks following the announcement of Liu’s Nobel win.
It decried the illegal detention of petitioners seeking redress for alleged wrongdoings at the local level, saying it had documented more than 2,600 cases involving so-called “black jails”.
Hundreds more were subjected to house arrest, short-term detentions by police or “enforced travel” — being made to leave one’s home at a sensitive period for a number of days, CHRD noted.