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Criticism of China’s rights record undermined by Iraq abuses

16 May 2004

An opportunity for British Prime Minister Tony Blair to criticize China over its human rights record during trade negotiations has been undermined by the recent scandal surrounding allied treatment of Iraqi prisoners. According to MRG, abuses by coalition troops offered the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, an easy means to deflect criticism during his visit to London in May. While the coalition is on the defensive regarding its own rights record, he took the unusual opportunity to raise concern over the situation in Iraq and call for a greater UN role, while claiming that China attached ‘great importance’ to its own human rights.

Director of Minority Rights Group International, Mark Lattimer, stated: ‘This time around his (Wen’s) armour is pretty tight with regard to British criticism of human rights abuses in China. That is a real pity because those abuses are extreme, and they continue. China continues to judiciously execute more than the rest of the world put together, some 15-thousand people a year. Two-hundred thousand people are locked up without charge or trial in the so-called re-education through labour camps. Religious freedoms in China are everywhere denied, whether it’s to Buddhists in Tibet, to Muslims in Xingjian, to Christians or the Falun Gong movement’.

China again avoided scrutiny over its rights record during the recent session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, where it has consistently applied political and economic pressure to ensure that no resolution is adopted against it, to the frustration of many NGOs. Minority Rights Group International highlighted China’s treatment of religious minorities as cause for grave concern in a 2002 report which described serious violations including executions, arbitrary detention and wholesale violation of freedom of religion, expression and assembly. The UK government has faced calls from NGOs to raise rights issues alongside trade negotiations in a process of dialogue, which may have been weakened by recent events.

While officially registered religious groups are tolerated and have some representation in China, unofficial groups are regarded as unpatriotic. Buddhism, Christianity and Islam are considered to be synonymous with separatist movements and a threat to China’s territorial integrity. Tibet and Xinjiang, with their Buddhist and Muslim populations respectively, are contested territories, and freedom of religion and association in these areas is particularly liable to suppression. Some groups have been further targeted under anti-terror legislation, including new religions such as the Falun gong.

Notes for editors

Download MRG’s report ‘Religious Minorities and China‘.

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].