Rights group accuses China of collective punishment of human rights defenders News
Rights group accuses China of collective punishment of human rights defenders

Madrid-based human rights organization Safeguard Defenders (SD) published a report alleging the practice of collective punishment as a political tool by the Chinese government against human rights defenders and their families on Sunday, which marked International Human Rights Day.

The report, titled “FAMILIES IN FEAR: Collective Punishment in 21st Century China”, documents what it describes as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s use of collective punishment as a tool to “coerce confessions, frighten family members from advocacy and silence overseas critics”. The report was conducted using interviews and media reports to prove the CCP’s increasing use of the penalty against any person from prisoners to children, including babies, and in forms ranging from loss of freedom such as forced disappearance, involuntary psychiatric commitment, detention and house arrest, to physical violence, which can lead to death.

In its report, SD documented the death of a former miner, Dong Jianbiao, in prison in 2022, claiming he died “under suspicious circumstances” as a punishment by the government for his daughter Dong Yaoqiong’s public criticism of Xi Jinping. SD previously released a reported on this incident. Yaoqiong was targeted by the government for splashing ink on a portrait of the president in 2018 and was placed in a psychiatric institution following her arrest. She was released in 2019 and sent back again in 2020.

Collective punishment is a form of sanction practiced by states in order to punish an individual for an act committed by a person they are related to. It is considered to be an arbitrary punishment, which can violate international law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in its Article 9 that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” Furthermore, the Convention of the Rights of the Child prohibits the arbitrary or unlawful interference with a child’s privacy family, home or correspondence or attacks on their honor or reputation in Article 16 and that “No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and “No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily” in its Article 37.

The Chinese government has been condemned on multiple occasions for its human rights violations, including over its response to protests that stemmed from its strict restrictions on the freedom of its citizens during the pandemic. Moreover, it has received severe criticisms over its treatment of religious minorities as, according to a report published by Human Rights Watch in November, the government has increased mosque closures in the northern Ningxia region and Gansu province in violation of religious freedom. It has also received international criticism over an alleged genocide against Uyghur people. In August, the US sanctioned Chinese officials linked to the alleged systematic assimilation of Tibetan children.