China using 'collective punishment' against activists' families: rights group

China using 'collective punishment' against activists' families: rights group

The children of human rights advocates in China are being punished for their parents' activism as Beijing intensifies a crackdown on civil society, a rights group warned on Monday.

Chinese President Xi Jinping

China has long stood accused of suppressing human rights, especially in the troubled regions of Xinjiang and Tibet as well as more recently in the former British colony of Hong Kong.

Beijing consistently denies abuses and claims the allegations are part of a deliberate smear campaign to contain its development.

But a new report released Monday by Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a group of international and Chinese NGOs, points to a number of recent cases in which "collective punishment" was meted out against the families of human rights defenders.

"While this report focuses on 2023, Chinese authorities have used these tactics for decades, inflicting tremendous harm with impunity," it said.

"Seeking redress often triggers more police harassment, brutality, and baseless legal prosecutions," it added.

The report is based on testimony from a dozen people affected by collective punishment last year, and redacted certain identifying details to protect them from official reprisals.

It said authorities threatened and harmed the children of rights advocates, including by imposing exit bans, forcing them to drop out of school and detaining them in psychiatric wards and orphanages.

AFP was not able to independently verify the claims.

"The Chinese Communist Party's collective punishment of human rights defenders' families is an informal or hidden policy carried out by government authorities," the report cited one activist as saying.

It points to the case of He Fangmei  an imprisoned campaigner for vaccine safety and for victims of defective vaccines -- whose young children were placed in a psychiatric hospital following her and her husband's detentions.

After He gave birth, the report said, her newborn child was also placed in the institution.

In another case, the family of human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang was reportedly subjected to intense harassment, and his young son denied education through official pressure on schools.

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Last month, the report said, police showed up at a school the boy had been attending for just ten days.

"He was once again forced out of school!" his mother Li Wenzu  also an activist  was quoted as saying.

Those who try to flee such treatment by going abroad, the report said, are then slapped with exit bans -- a practice that rights groups have said has intensified in recent years as President Xi Jinping tightens control.

Monday's report also shed some light on the fate of Peng Lifa, an activist who reportedly disappeared after placing banners denouncing Xi and the country's Covid policies.

"To prevent his family from speaking out, Chinese police have... put members of his family and relatives under surveillance, and cut off all contact with each other and the outside world," the report said.

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