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UN Concerned About China's Clampdown on Human Rights Defenders

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay (file photo)

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay (file photo)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, condemns the harsh prison sentences given to Chinese pro-democracy activists Chen Xi on Monday and Chen Wei on Friday. She says these convictions, which follow that of Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng in mid-December, represent another serious setback for the protection and promotion of human rights in China.

The U.N.’s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, says she is disturbed by what appears to be an escalating clampdown on the activities of human rights defenders in China.

Her spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, tells VOA the 10-year prison sentence handed down on pro-democracy activist Chen Xi by a Chinese court on Monday is the third such case in just 10 days. He was convicted for allegedly inciting subversion.

She notes prominent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng was ordered to serve a three-year sentence on December 16, just as his five-year probation was due to expire. And, just one week later, she says leading human rights activist Chen Wei was sentenced to nine years for allegedly inciting subversive writing.

“So, we are very alarmed at what appears to be a very unfortunate trend going on in terms of restrictions against the activities of human rights defenders and freedom of expression in China over the past few days… It is a setback for the enjoyment of human rights in China…and we call upon the Chinese authorities to reverse this trend and to release any persons for peacefully exercising their freedom of expression.”

Shamdasani says High Commissioner Pillay firmly believes that respect for human rights is a universal yearning, and freedom of expression is a fundamental right. The spokeswoman says the high commissioner always stresses to governments that efforts to repress these rights are doomed to failure in the long run.

“Despite the attempt of states to repress this right, it cannot succeed in the long term at establishing a stable society," she said. "It cannot succeed in the long term by keeping human rights languishing out of the country. It just works. You have seen recently with the Arab Spring as well where a lot of governments had devoted considerable resources to trying to suppress the human rights movement. It did not work. It cannot work.”

The cases of Chen Xi and Chen Wei have several things in common. Both men were at the forefront of 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. Chen Xi was sentenced to three years in prison for that offense, and Chen Wei spent more than five years behind bars for his peaceful expression of dissent.

Now, both men, once again, have been given stiff sentences for questioning China’s democratic credentials. Within a few days of each other, Chen Xi was sentenced to 10 years and Chen Wei to nine years on charges of allegedly inciting subversive writing.