Q&A: China accused of intimidating and detaining citizens critical of COVID-19 abuse

Social distancing in a Macau hospital waiting room. Human Rights Watch expressed concern about human rights violations committed under the guise of COVID-19 public health lockdowns in China. photo by Macau Photo Agency sure Unsplash
  • by Alison Kentish (The United Nations)
  • Inter Press Service

This comes as the World Health Organization the team arrived in Wuhan to investigate the origins of the outbreak and, just as China announced today, Jan. 14, its first COVID-19-related death in 8 months.

In one declaration Last week, the New York-based rights group said that “under the guise of COVID-19 lockdowns,” Chinese authorities have unleashed cruel measures against its citizens. HRW said the government was trying to silence its critics, through surveillance, intimidation and long prison terms.

Yaqui Wang, a researcher at HRW China, told IPS that governments and the international community should pressure the Chinese government to end the abuses.

Inter Press Service (IPS): You cited international human rights law, which states that state restrictions due to public health needs must be legal, necessary and proportionate. According to reports on the ground, do the restrictions in China violate these conditions?

Yaqiu Wang (YW):Right. There have been actions taken by the Chinese government that seemed unnecessarily harsh and did not respect human dignity. For example, officials have been seen sealing apartment doors to prevent people from leaving their homes.

Some residents have been chained to metal poles for allegedly violating stay-at-home orders. Videos posted online showed residents screaming in despair from their homes. In Xinjiang, authorities forced some residents to drink traditional Chinese medicine.

Under international human rights law, when quarantines or lockdowns are imposed, authorities are required to ensure access to food, water, health care and care. Yet during the Wuhan lockdown, you saw a lot of scary stories on the Chinese internet: A boy with cerebral palsy died because no one took care of him after his father was quarantined. A woman with leukemia has died after being turned away by several hospitals over concerns over cross infection. A mother desperately pleaded with the police to let her daughter with leukemia go through a bridge checkpoint to get chemotherapy. A man with kidney disease jumped to his death from his apartment balcony after he couldn’t access healthcare facilities for dialysis.

Keep in mind that these stories are just the tip of the iceberg given the strict censorship people live under in China. Critical government information is quickly removed. More often than not, people don’t even bother to voice their criticisms or tell their stories knowing they might be punished.

IPS: You have expressed your concern about human rights violations committed under the guise of a public health lockdown. In what ways do citizens say they are intimidated?

EAST:For example, in the name of cracking down on false information about the pandemic, authorities have arrested hundreds if not thousands of people for “rumor”, censored online discussions about the epidemic, curbed media reporting and jailed citizen journalists. .

IPS: How concerned are you about surveillance tactics that intercept citizen communication platforms? Are you worried that citizens are afraid to come forward and voice their concerns?

EAST:This is now the digital reality of people living in China. Anything you say publicly on Chinese social media or privately through Chinese messaging apps is open to the Chinese government. If you criticize the government, even in private, you can be harassed, or worse, jail. Perhaps the most pernicious effect is that, knowing the risks, many choose to self-censor.

Fear permeates Chinese society, which existed long before the pandemic.

IPS: You said that residents also fear detention and harsh sentences, including long prison terms if they speak out. Are these fears based on hearings taking place during the pandemic?

EAST: Since the outbreak in Wuhan, authorities have arrested several citizen journalists who reported from Wuhan. A Shanghai court sentenced Zhang Zhan to four years in prison after convicting her of picking quarrels and causing unrest. The situation and whereabouts of Fang Bin, a businessman from Wuhan who was arrested for posting videos from the city hospital, remains unknown. Beijing-based activists Chen Mei and Cai Wei, who police arrested in April for archiving censored COVID-19 information, remain in a detention center awaiting trial.

IPS: Are there measures in place to help citizens who come forward, but who would require some level of anonymity to report their grievances?

EAST:It has actually become very difficult. On the one hand, many secure communication tools, such as WhatsApp and Telegram, are banned in China. It is increasingly difficult to bypass censorship and achieve secure communication as unauthorized VPNs are increasingly banned in China. So, people have to use domestic apps, and those apps are heavily monitored and censored. For example, all WeChat accounts are associated with a phone number associated with your national ID card. The Chinese government has all but eliminated anonymity in the Chinese digital space.

IPS: You are calling for an end to intimidation and surveillance of those who criticize the government’s COVID response. Given the realities on the ground in China, do you hope, at the very least, to be able to shed some light on what is going on?

EAST:Yes, so people outside of China are aware of the abuses that are happening in China. We hope that governments and the international community can put pressure on the Chinese government to stop the abuses.

© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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