Sarah Cook | Freedom House [caption id="attachment_2575" align="alignleft" width="300"] Student for Free Tibet protest (Leoboudv, Wikimedia)[/caption] “A prominent Chinese-American businessman and online commentator is arrested in Beijing four days after President Xi Jinping urges party cadres to reassert control over social media. A pastor from a state-sanctioned church is sentenced to 12 years in prison after defending his congregants’ rights. A producer for the state broadcaster is forced to resign after criticizing his station’s role in aiding propaganda. And hundreds of villagers use their thumbprints and real names to sign a petition urging the release of a neighbor persecuted for his adherence to the Falun Gong spiritual practice.” According to a Freedom House report the “The Politburo’s Predicament, the Chinese Communist Party repression has intensified under the leadership of Xi Jinping, but has also trapped the party in a vicious circle whereby increasing coercion breeds growing resistance, requiring ever more intense crackdowns. “There is a clear change in how Xi Jinping is managing the censorship and security apparatus compared with his predecessor, and overall this has meant more restrictions, not more freedom,” said Sarah Cook, author of the report. “As the systems of coercion touch the lives of more Chinese people, Xi and his colleagues risk exacerbating the party’s legitimacy problems.” China is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2014, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2014, and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2014. “The United States and other democracies should work together to more effectively assist victims of repression and challenge official impunity,” Cook said, citing the report’s list of recommendations. “They should also seriously reconsider assumptions that the Communist Party will rule indefinitely, and that any liberalization will come from the top down.” Key findings:
- Concentration of power at the very top: Ultimate authority over information controls and domestic security has been consolidated in the hands of Xi himself via new party entities.
- Expanded targets of repression: Of 17 categories of victims assessed, 11 experienced greater restrictions after Xi took power. Among the victims are new targets whose activities were previously tolerated, including individuals from the economic elite or with official ties.
- Revival of old practices alongside new methods: Tactics and terminology reminiscent of the Mao Zedong era—including televised confessions—have been revived alongside more novel approaches. Increasingly strategic, multipronged campaigns, criminal and extralegal detentions, and the “community corrections” system have been used to punish activists and intimidate social-media users.
- Civil society resilience: Despite heightened repression, fear of the regime appears to be diminishing. Civic participation in rights defense activities is growing. Banned information circulates despite censorship. And activities that the authorities have invested tremendous resources in suppressing have continued and even expanded.
- Regime insecurity and internal resistance: The increase in repression appears to be driven by a deep sense of insecurity. Some of those tasked with implementing censorship, propaganda, and repression are instead showing sympathy with victims, quietly refusing to comply with orders, and expressing regret for their role in obstructing other citizens’ freedoms.