Beijing thinks that only the people of China can and should be able to pass judgement on the nation’s human rights record. The Chinese leadership has apparently not yet learned that becoming a global player means that more people pay attention to what you do, and how you do it, and, unlike most of those in China, remain free to say what they think of it.
The US State Department issued its annual report on human rights on Thursday, and yesterday Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) said the report ignored the facts about China, was filled with prejudice and was completely wrong.
Hong was right in that only the Chinese can know what it is like to live under such a repressive regime, with people like blind activist Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠) and his eldest brother, Chen Guangfu (陳光福), willing to scale 4m high walls around their homes to get word out about what life is like in China when you run afoul of the authorities. There are many others willing to risk their own careers, and perhaps safety, by helping the Chens.
Chen Guangcheng, of course, was mentioned in the US report, along with the catalogue of harassment he and his family have been subjected to since his release from prison 19 months ago. He was convicted — albeit on what he and his supporters say were trumped-up charges — but he served his time. Yet, as has been learned since his escape, the Orwellian restrictions imposed on him and his family were apparently laid down by the vindictive authorities at village, county and provincial level.
What crimes did Chen Guangcheng’s wife, brothers, mother, nephew and others commit that warranted their beatings, in some cases both before and after his escape? Ever since his dramatic escape, Chen Guangcheng has repeatedly voiced concern that his family members and supporters will face more abuse. Judging by what Chen Guangfu had to say on Wednesday about the treatment meted out to him, his wife and their son, his brother was right to be concerned.
On Thursday Chen Guangcheng once again urged the Beijing authorities to pursue the officials who have harassed and abused him and his family, saying such a move would help establish the rule of law. He was quoted as saying the treatment was “entirely against Chinese law” because he was actually supposed to be free, having served his jail sentence.
Beijing is fond of saying it is a nation of laws, but it is a rule by law, not a rule of law, and if any of the details coming out about disgraced former Chongqing party secretary-general Bo Xilai (薄熙來) prove to be true, it would be further proof that there is one law for high-up party members and another for average Chinese.
Over the past year the Beijing government has boosted efforts to silence activists and their supporters — apparently ahead of the upcoming party congress, though any excuse will do — with “disappearances” and house arrests. Even those Chinese who are highly praised and internationally renowned, such as artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未), are not immune.
Hong was quoted as saying yesterday that “in human rights, there is no such thing as the best; there is only doing even better.” He meant that China has worked hard to improve the lives of the poor. However, the various levels of official and unofficial security thugs seem to be living up to their own motto, which might begin with: “In repressing human rights.”