Should Respect People’s Right to Peaceful Protest: Human Rights Watch

29 November, 2022 | Pranay Lad

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HRW has stated that the Chinese govt should respect the fundamental rights of people all around China to peacefully criticise the govt's harsh "zero Covid."

The New York-based rights organisation demanded that the government free all demonstrators who had been unlawfully jailed and stop censoring information about protests online. Thousands of individuals began openly protesting the government’s stringent Covid-19 regulations and the Chinese Communist Party’s totalitarian control over the weekend in Shanghai, China’s largest metropolis and financial hub. Students from colleges all throughout the nation came to protest on their campuses that evening, and in Wuhan, the birthplace of Covid-19, Chengdu, Beijing, and other major cities, massive crowds of people flocked to the streets.

Yaqiu Wang, the senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, stated that “people across China are taking exceptional risks to demand their human rights.” The Chinese government should permit everyone to peacefully voice their opinions rather than putting an end to the demonstrations.

The demonstration in Shanghai was in response to an apartment building fire that occurred on November 24 in Urumqi, the regional capital of northwest China’s Xinjiang province, and resulted in at least 10 fatalities. Human Rights Watch was unable to corroborate widespread suspicions that Covid-related restrictions hindered emergency responses and that pandemic control hurdles deterred locals from fleeing the fire.

Videos of police officers coming to protest locations in Shanghai and elsewhere, attempting to disperse the crowds, and taking demonstrators into police vans have been widely shared online. A media agency reporter covering the demonstration in Shanghai was detained and taken to a police station where he was attacked and beaten by officers.

An unnamed guy in ordinary clothing is shown in one video seizing a lone lady who is clutching a blank sheet of paper while she is standing on the stairs of Nanjing’s Communication University of China.

Social media posts and accounts that reported on the protests were taken down by online censors. Information about protests was also difficult to obtain because to social media platforms’ search features.

“While there are periodically small-scale rallies in China over individual acts of government oppression, it is incredibly uncommon for citizens to publicly demand the resignation of President Xi Jinping or the end of Communist Party rule. Any perceived threat to the Party’s hold on power is met with harsh punishments, including lengthy prison terms “said the HRW.

The most notorious instance of the Chinese government forcefully repressing rallies, according to the rights group, was the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, when military troops murdered untold numbers of nonviolent pro-democracy activists in Beijing.

The right to free expression and assembly should be supported, and governments and international organisations should push the Chinese government not to repress the demonstrations, according to Human Rights Watch.

The readiness of individuals in China to risk everything to have their rights and freedoms protected has been grossly overestimated by Chinese authorities, according to Wang.

People in China are demonstrating to the Chinese Communist Party and the rest of the world that they, like everyone else, have the right to have a voice in how they are governed with tremendous bravery.