Rights advocates at home and abroad are calling on U.S. President Donald Trump to use his first presidential visit to China to address the country's deteriorating human rights situation.
Advocates are calling for the release of Liu Xia, the widow of the late Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo, and many other Chinese political prisoners including four rights lawyers who are either awaiting trial or verdicts. They are also calling for the release of a Taiwanese rights activist detained in China for more than 230 days.
Failing to do so, they warn, will only worsen the situation Chinese rights defenders face. Room for dissent and alternative views in China has been shrinking rapidly since Xi Jinping came to power in 2013.
Deteriorating rights conditions
“The international environment, in which few leaders are willing to stand up for human rights internationally and particularly in relations to China, has emboldened the Chinese government even further in undermining human rights at home,” Maya Wang, China researcher of Human Rights Watch, told VOA.
The most recent case that has gained the attention of rights advocates is the criminal detention of lawyer Li Yuhan. Li has been missing since early last month and officially charged with “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” in late October by the Public Security Bureau in Shenyang, Liaoning province, according to Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.
It’s not clear if she will be able to hire a lawyer of her own choosing. And her family has also been denied any visits to her in prison.
Shenyang authorities have “made various attempts to revenge her as she used to report the police’s malpractices…. It is apparent to us that both power abuses and malfeasances form part of the case,” the Hong Kong-based rights group said in a written statement.
Retaliation by authorities
Li, 60, suffers from hypertension and has a heart condition. But despite that, she has taken up a series of sensitive cases including that of lawyer Wang Yu, one of the main targets of a massive nationwide crackdown on lawyers in China that began over two years ago. She has also taken on other religious freedom cases as well as the case of a wronged police officer in Anhui.
Rights advocates believe her decision to take on Wang Yu’s case is the main reason behind her detention.
“It may be related to her legal representation for Fengrui lawyer Wang Yu that maybe a possibility as a retaliation against her by the authorities” after she had visited the Wang’s in Mongolia, said Patrick Poon, China Researcher at Amnesty International, calling on the international society, including President Trump, to address Li’s case as well as other rights violation cases in China.
Amnesty International joined other international rights groups as well as 85 Chinese lawyers and citizens to call for the immediate release of Li while expressing concerns over her health and the possible use of torture against her.
Shaky trade relations
However, rights advocates at home and abroad said the chance that President Trump will criticize China’s human rights records is slim as he, like many other world leaders, is likely to put more emphasis on trade relations with China.
But true progress in trade, some argue, is dependent on advances in human rights.
“It’ll be a sad thing if [trade] cooperation with China is prioritized before [the improvement of] human rights. I believe human rights pave the core foundation for the world’s development. Without [the protection of] human rights, any such economic cooperation won’t be sustainable,” said Ou Biaofeng, a rights activist from Human province.
Under the banner of "America First" the Trump administration has pledged not to interfere in other countries domestic politics and that is sending a worrying signal, one analysts worry may heighten authoritarianism in the region.
United Nations’ human rights experts have urged Hong Kong to uphold the fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly before the court heard a final appeal of Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, who were granted bail on Oct 24, against their respective jail sentences of six months and eight months.
The top court in Hong Kong on Tuesday decided to grant a bid by Wong and Law to appeal their prison terms in a hearing to be scheduled in January.
In Taiwan, various non-governmental organizations gathered in Taipei on Tuesday to voice their support for the Taiwanese rights activist Lee Ming-che, whom China has detained since late March, pending a verdict.
Lin Hsiu-hsin, Taiwan Association of University Professors president, told the Associated Press that "China not only didn't respect international regulations and human rights, but also didn't care about its own laws because it has detained a Taiwanese citizen," who hasn't been freed yet.
Free Liu Xia
Meanwhile, last week, more than 50 internationally-celebrated writers, artists and supporters of PEN America, including Chimamanda Achibie, Margaret Atwood, and Khaled Hosseini, issued a written petition urging China to end all restrictions and surveillance imposed on Liu Xia, saying the only reason for her detention is her connection to her deceased husband.
The writers further called upon President Trump to seek the release of Liu, who was last seen in an online video in late August.
Also, international rights groups are concerned that thousands of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities are being held in re-education camps, which are now formally referred to as “Professional Education Schools,” without contact with their families under a policy designed to counter extremism in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, according to local officials.