Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the rights situation in Russia “continued to deteriorate” last year and it slammed Moscow for its crackdown on activism in the country, saying authorities relied on “repression” and “showcase prosecutions” to help silence dissent.
The New York-based rights watchdog on January 14 also assailed China for its “attacks” on human rights and its efforts to export such behavior, and it took issue with U.S. President Donald Trump, grouping him among leaders it says are unwilling to promote human rights in their foreign policy.
The comments come from HRW’s 652-page World Report 2020, which surveyed the human rights situation in nearly 100 countries. It was the 30th annual edition of the influential report by the rights watchdog.
In its review of Russia, HRW said that “with few exceptions, authorities responded to rising civic activism with bans, repressive laws, and showcase prosecutions” in 2019.
“Record numbers of people protested the groundless exclusion of opposition candidates from a local election in Moscow, and authorities responded with an overwhelming show of force, detentions, and rushed criminal prosecutions,” it said.
Over the summer, demonstrations were held in Moscow and other Russian cities in protest over authorities’ refusal to allow independent and opposition candidates to get on the ballot for local elections. The protests soon grew to voice discontent with Russia’s broader political system.
The report also criticized the efforts by the government to restrict online speech, “suffocate” nongovernmental organizations, and pursue an “intimidation campaign against individuals for allegedly defying the law banning ‘undesirable’ foreign organizations.”
It said that “torture and other ill-treatment” remained widespread, especially in pretrial detention and prisons, but it said authorities often deny that such activities take place and do not prosecute those responsible.
Amid the protests and dissent, polls in Russia indicate trust in President Vladimir Putin has slipped from the extreme highs of previous years, even though he does remain popular and overwhelmingly won an election for a fourth term as president in 2018.
Kenneth Roth, HRW’s executive director, also pointed to other threats to human rights, including in Syria, where he said forces from Russia and the Syrian government “blatantly disregard the international rules designed to spare civilians, including the prohibitions against attacking civilians and bombing hospitals.”
Russia, along with Iran, has provided crucial support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government in a civil war that has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced millions since it began with a crackdown on antigovernment protesters in March 2011.
A key focus of the HRW 2020 review was what the rights watchdog called China’s “intense attack” on the global system for defending human rights.
Roth said, “Decades of progress that have allowed people around the world to speak freely, live without fear of arbitrary imprisonment and torture, and enjoy other human rights are at risk.”
He said the Chinese government has created a “vast surveillance state” at home in its effort to “achieve total social control.”
He added, though, that it is now increasingly using its economic and diplomatic might “to fend off global efforts abroad to hold it to account for its repression.”
“Beijing has long suppressed domestic critics,” Roth said.
“Now the Chinese government is trying to extend that censorship to the rest of the world.”
HRW also cited what it called the encroachment on Hong Kong’s limited freedoms under “one country, two systems.”
Hundreds of thousands of people have joined in street protests against Beijing’s efforts to stifle dissent in the city, which is part of China but was guaranteed a great deal of autonomy for 50 years through a deal with Britain in 1997, when it handed the territory to Beijing.
The report also assailed Chinese authorities in Xinjiang Province, where they have created a “a nightmarish surveillance system to control millions of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, arbitrarily detaining 1 million people for forced political indoctrination.”
He urged the global community to “band together” to create a meaningful check on repression and to counter Beijing’s attacks.
The HRW chief, however, expressed disappointment with some world leaders, saying that an “inhospitable terrain for human rights is aiding the Chinese government’s attack.”
“A growing number of governments that previously could be relied on at least some of the time to promote human rights in their foreign policy now have leaders, such as United States President Donald Trump, who are unwilling to do so,” he said.