“If I Disobey, My Family Will Suffer:” Collective punishment of human rights defenders’ families in China

Comments Off on “If I Disobey, My Family Will Suffer:” Collective punishment of human rights defenders’ families in China
“If I Disobey, My Family Will Suffer:” Collective punishment of human rights defenders’ families in China

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, April 15, 2024) CHRD releases its annual report on the situation of human rights defenders (2023), “If I Disobey, My Family Will Suffer: Collective punishment of human rights defenders’ families in China.”

“Chinese authorities are punishing their families, including young children to penalize human rights defenders, rights lawyers, themselves. Even the Chinese law provides no legal basis for this perverse practice, which is forbidden in international law,” say Renee Xia, Executive Director of CHRD.

While this report focuses on 2023, Chinese authorities have used these tactics for decades. Seeking redress often triggers more police harassment, brutality, and baseless legal prosecutions.

As the Chinese government seeks greater global influence, its unlawful and perverse practice of collective punishment of human rights defenders deserves greater scrutiny. Its blatant violation of human rights and illegal practices should sound the alarm for the international community. While the Chinese legal system has failed to hold any perpetrators accountable, other governments and the United Nations human rights mechanisms should pursue justice for victims and end impunity for those Chinese officials responsible for collective punishment.

Key takeaways of this report:

Chinese authorities threaten and harm human rights defenders’ children, including newborns, to silence and punish their parents.

  • Children of jailed rights defenders, as young as infants and toddlers, have been detained in psychiatric wards or orphanages.
  • School-age children have been forced to drop out of school.
  • Children have been subjected to exit bans to prevent them from going abroad to study.

The government resorts to criminal proceedings – detention, arrest, imprisonment – against human rights defenders’ family members.

Authorities deny families’ access to detained or jailed rights defenders in order to force them to cooperate.

Chinese police obstruct families’ communication with overseas activists in order to silence them.

Government officials enforced family separations with exit bans, citing “endangering national security,” that lack legal basis, or detain activists or pressure foreign governments to apprehend and repatriate activists, who tried to reunite with families abroad.

The Chinese government’s collective punishment of human rights defenders’ families appears to be a state policy; CHRD is unaware of any official having been investigated or prosecuted for such abuses.

“Collective punishment inflicts tremendous pain and suffering on completely innocent people across the country, including young children, and in diaspora communities outside China. The perpetrators must be held accountable,” said Sophie Richardson, who advises CHRD’s research and advocacy work.   

The report concludes with recommendations for actions, including demanding the Chinese government to:

  • Immediately cease all harassment and extralegal detention of the family members of human rights defenders, taking urgent measures to end sanctions and protect their children’s safety and education;
  • Lift all arbitrary exit bans and urgently allow for family reunifications, especially in cases in which children have been removed from their families;
  • Implement the recommendations made by UN treaty bodies and calls from Special Procedures mandate holders, and issue standing invitations for unfettered visits by UN experts to the country;
  • Refrain from defeating the objective and purpose of the ICCPR, as required of states that have signed the ICCPR, and ratify the ICCPR immediately;
  • Repeal or revise domestic legislation to come into line with international human rights obligations, amend relevant legal stipulations to provide legal remedies to victims;
  • Investigate and prosecute police and officials for abuse of power in engaging in unlawful conduct of collective punishment.

(Download and read the Full Report here)

Back to Top