In 2016, China managed to uphold and even improve upon its reputation for political rights, civil liberties and freedom of speech, according a recently released study from Freedom House.
The “Freedom in the World 2017” report gives China an impressive aggregate score of 15 out of 100 (with 100 being most free). That places the country on the same freedom level as Cuba, less free than Iran, but more free than Yemen. It’s also one point less than it scored last year.
Once again, China scored perfect 7 out of 7 marks on political rights and 6 out 7 on civil liberties (with 7 being least free).
Freedom House has thus stamped the country (again) with the “not free” label, mirroring its “not free” press freedom status and “not free” net freedom status.
Moreover, Freedom House has also bestowed upon China a downward trend arrow citing the “chilling effect on private and public discussion, particularly online, generated by cybersecurity and foreign NGO laws, increased internet surveillance, and heavy sentences handed down to human rights lawyers, microbloggers, grassroots activists, and religious believers.”
For all of this, Freedom House once again credits the man at the top:
Xi Jinping, who took office as general secretary of the CCP in November 2012, continued to concentrate personal power in 2016 to an extent not seen in China for decades. The slowing economy made the leadership’s promotion of nationalism, with an increasingly hostile anti-Western tone, a key CCP strategy for continued legitimacy. The authorities also stepped up efforts to suppress growing independent labor activism linked to the country’s economic situation.
Official rhetoric and propaganda presented party supremacy as essential to the “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and to China’s national security. The latter was increasingly cited to justify criminal prosecutions of civil society and democracy activists, human rights lawyers, and bloggers. Xi took his vision of ideological conformity to new heights during the year, demanding that cadres demonstrate absolute loyalty to the party line and doubling down on media censorship. Online speech deemed politically sensitive by the authorities was punished with imprisonment.
Prominent human rights lawyers and democracy proponents arrested in a sweeping crackdown that began in July 2015 received especially harsh prison terms in 2016, signaling the leadership’s intolerance for their activism. Limited reforms to prevent miscarriages of justice continued to be implemented, but they were critically undermined by the CCP’s intensified efforts to retain political control over the judiciary.
A plan for “comprehensive management” of all religious activity and organizations and the “Sinicization” of religion in China, laid out at an April party conference, further restricted the scope for religious freedoms. The government continued to impose conditions approaching martial law in Tibetan- and Uighur-populated regions of the country, refusing to reassess failed policies of repression for these ethnic minority groups.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the rankings, Taiwan has actually managed to move past the United States on the annual report for the first time. Taiwan received 91 points out of 100 this year, two more than the US. It also received an 1 out of 7 in both political rights and civil liberties, the best possible scores.
Falling somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, Hong Kong received an aggreagate score of 61 and “partly free” status, placing it on the level of Sierra Leone and the Ukraine. It was also given a downward trend arrow.
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