Report Names China as State Most Dangerous to Its Citizens’ Civil Rights
In 2022, the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), a New Zealand-based project, suggested that of the 100 countries surveyed, China had the worst record in terms of safety from the state and right to assembly. In addition, China also scored lowest for freedom of religion and belief when compared with eight other countries.
HRMI's assessment revealed that China exhibited deficiencies in several areas, registering the poorest overall human rights record among all countries. Additionally, only Kazakhstan scored lower than China in terms of freedom from arbitrary arrest.
In contrast, China scored relatively highly on certain economic indicators, including health and housing and the right to food, coming near the top of the 100 countries. For these economic indicators, HRMI used publicly available statistics provided by international and national institutions rather than surveys. However, the HRMI survey revealed that certain demographics in China, including ethnic minorities and critics of the government, are excluded from basic economic rights.
What Is the HRMI Index?
The HRMI index tracks political and civil rights via a survey distributed among human rights experts such as lawyers, NGO workers, and journalists across various countries. These areas are tightly controlled by the Chinese government, posing difficulties in obtaining precise data. HRMI spokesperson Thalia Kehoe Rowden explained that the organization takes the safety and security of survey respondents extremely seriously, having operated for several years in countries where human rights defenders are in danger. The survey is taken anonymously via an encrypted online form to protect the identity of participants, ensuring that no one can discover exactly who has participated or what they have said.
Other Results of the Index
Although it did not score as poorly as China, Hong Kong has dropped down HRMI’s index. It saw a rapid decrease in many rights since the government crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in 2019 and 2020. During the crackdown, Hong Kong’s ranking on the freedom of assembly index fell by almost 40 percent and the freedom of expression index by 33 percent, according to HRMI.
Meanwhile, human rights groups report that a growing number of disenfranchised Chinese citizens are making the journey to the United States via a perilous jungle route between Panama and Colombia, joining Cubans, Haitians, and Venezuelans marching through the Darién Gap as they flee political persecution. Data from the Panama government suggests that 377 Chinese nationals made the journey in November 2022, increasing to 695 in December 2022. In January 2023, 913 Chinese citizens crossed the Gap, making them the fourth-largest group of migrants to make the journey in 2023.
Protests Across China
The Uyghurs are a Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim ethnic group. There are around 11 million Uyghurs living in Northwest Xinjiang, China. According to a report published by the Council on Foreign Relations, more than 1 million Muslims, a majority of them Uyghur, have been arbitrarily detained by the Chinese government since 2017, with reeducation camps just one facet of the crackdown. In addition, the Chinese government has also been subjecting those not detained to intense religious restrictions, surveillance, forced labor, and even forced sterilizations.
In 2022, Chinese nationals took to the streets, peacefully protesting the government’s strict COVID-19 restrictions and calling for freedom and human rights. Throughout 2022, under the direction of President Xi Jinping, the ruling Chinese Communist Party repeatedly imposed unpredictable lockdowns involving hundreds of millions of people as part of its zero-COVID policy. These measures hindered the ability of millions of Chinese citizens to access food, health care, and other basic necessities, with the government’s actions disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations. Meanwhile, video footage posted online showed COVID-19 control workers and police beating people who resisted COVID-19 restrictions.
Demonstrators within and outside of China protested human rights abuses, censorship, economic hardships, and President Xi’s expanded power. International pressure on the Chinese government also intensified. Eight governments boycotted the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, and in response to the abuses in Xinjiang, the EU introduced draft legislation aimed at setting universal benchmarks for human rights due diligence among companies.
In 2023, Chinese human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi and legal scholar Xu Zhiyong were sentenced to prison terms of 12 and 14 years, respectively, for “subversion of state power” following peaceful protests against the Chinese government. Alkan Akad, Amnesty International’s China researcher, described sentences as “disgraceful.” He petitioned for Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong’s immediate release, pointing out that the hefty prison sentences violated their human rights regarding freedom of expression and assembly.
Regarding addressing human rights concerns, the UK government designates China as a country of paramount importance. A report released by the UK Parliament in November 2022 presents the actions of the Chinese government against the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang as compelling evidence of extensive and systematic human rights violations. The House of Commons passed a resolution characterizing these actions as genocide. The US government similarly describes the abuses against the Uyghur as genocide, while a UN report suggests that they could amount to crimes against humanity.