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HRW Executive Director Sounds Alarm on China's Assault on Human Rights

FILE - A guard tower and barbed wire fences are seen around a facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China's Xinjiang region. This is one of a growing number of internment camps in the Xinjiang region.

The head of Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that China has launched an assault on the international human rights system, and governments need to resist Beijing's actions.

"This is the most severe period of repression that we have seen in decades in China," said Kenneth Roth, HRW executive director.

In its World Report 2020, launched Tuesday at the United Nations, the rights group chronicles abuses in 95 countries. It expresses its deepest concern, though, about an emboldened China, which it warns is using its growing global economic influence to silence domestic critics and deter condemnation abroad.

FILE - Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch
FILE - Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch

At home, HRW says President Xi Jinping's government uses a combination of technology and intimidation to keep its people in line. Most concerning is the government's treatment of millions of ethnic Uigher Muslims.

"For the Uighers and other Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang, Beijing has built the most intrusive system of surveillance we have ever seen and coupled it with the largest case of mass arbitrary detention in decades," Roth told reporters.

In the northwest territory of Xinjiang, where most Uigher's live, Communist party officials and loyalists "visit" and live in homes of some Uighers to monitor them. The government also has harnessed technology to deploy facial-recognition systems and use the forced collection of DNA samples, as well as phone apps, to collect their data.

A million or more Uighers are incarcerated in "re-education" facilities, separated from their families, with many children being left without their parents.

China has defended its treatment of the Uighers, saying they are in vocational training and that it is pursuing de-radicalization and counterterror efforts.

Roth urged countries to deny Beijing the international respectability it desires, saying that can help force positive change.

"Governments should deliberately counter China's divide-and-conquer strategy for securing silence about its repression," Roth said. "When governments deal with China on their own, they often opt for silence, but if they band together, the power of balance shifts."

Denied entry

HRW originally planned to launch its report from Hong Kong, but authorities there would not let Roth into the country, which is governed by China.

A diplomat from China's U.N. mission attended his press conference and told reporters that Beijing rejects HRW's assessment of its human rights situation, saying his government has "made every effort to advance human rights in China."

As to Roth's denial of entry into Hong Kong, First Secretary Xing Jisheng said, "Given what you said here, I think it's clear to all why you have been barred such entry."