[They included five Hong Kong publishers and booksellers who had distributed works critical of China’s leadership and then went missing. One of them, Gui Minhai, who holds Swedish citizenship, disappeared in Thailand in October; another, Lee Bo, who has British citizenship, vanished in December. Both later reappeared on the Chinese mainland, making recorded confessions that may have been coerced.]
By Nick Cumming-Bruce
Placards with images of Lee Bo, left, and his associate, Gui Minhai, outside the China
liaison office in Hong Kong. Both vanished and later reappeared on the Chinese
mainland. Credit Philippe Lopez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
GENEVA — The United States and 11 other countries scolded China on Thursday over its crackdown on lawyers and human rights activists, saying that China had violated its own laws and international commitments.
Keith M. Harper, the American ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council, delivered a joint statement criticizing the sweeping arrests of activists and lawyers who in many cases, their families and supporters have said, did not have access to legal counsel nor were allowed family visits in breach of China’s laws.
The statement, representing the views of the United States, Japan, Australia, Britain and eight other European countries, also expressed alarm at the treatment of several Hong Kong residents who vanished and were evidently coerced into going to mainland China.
They included five Hong Kong publishers and booksellers who had distributed works critical of China’s leadership and then went missing. One of them, Gui Minhai, who holds Swedish citizenship, disappeared in Thailand in October; another, Lee Bo, who has British citizenship, vanished in December. Both later reappeared on the Chinese mainland, making recorded confessions that may have been coerced.
“These extraterritorial actions are unacceptable, out of step with the expectations of the international community and a challenge to the rule based international order,” the group said, noting that Hong Kong’s Basic Law, equivalent to a constitution, protects the autonomy of residents of the former British colony.
Fu Cong, China’s ambassador to the Human Rights Council, denounced the group’s findings, pointing to what he called American hypocrisy.
The United States is “notorious” for abuses at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, gun violence and racism, Mr. Fu said, urging the United States and Japan to cease meddling in China’s internal affairs.
“The United States conducts large-scale extraterritorial eavesdropping, uses drones to attack other countries’ innocent civilians, and its troops on foreign soil commit rape and murder of local people,” Mr. Fu added.
The group’s criticisms echoed concerns voiced last month by the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. It repeated his call for China to release lawyers and activists detained for exercising their right to freedom of speech or for fulfilling their professional duties.
In a phone interview, Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch, praised the group’s statement for drawing attention to “what human rights defenders across China are trying to achieve and the utterly unacceptable price they are forced to pay for their work.”
She added: “It tells China if you continue to behave this way you can at least expect to answer for it.”
Earlier on Thursday, Mr. al-Hussein criticized the United States, expressing hope that the Obama administration would finally meet its longstanding promise to close Guantánamo and “end the shocking practice of indefinite detention without charge or trial.”
Moreover, Mr. al-Hussein said, Washington has failed to prosecute those responsible for the torture and abuses in the years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Those abuses, he said, “cannot, under international law, remain unpunished.”