Photo/IllutrationA protest march that drew hundreds of thousands on Human Rights Day, in Hong Kong, Dec. 8, 2019. A new report from Human Rights Watch outlines how China has used its growing global political and economic clout to move beyond silencing critics at home to blocking scrutiny of its human rights record around the world. (Lam Yik Fei/ © 2020 The New York Times File Photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

HONG KONG—As China’s global political and economic clout has grown, its government has moved beyond silencing critics at home to blocking scrutiny of its human rights record around the world, an advocacy group said Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch, a New York-based group, outlined the moves in a global report on repressive governments that said Beijing stood out in the boldness of its attacks on critics around the world.

“No other government flexes its political muscles with such vigor and determination to undermine the international human rights standards and institutions that could hold it to account,” wrote Kenneth Roth, the organization’s executive director.

The group says its own recent experience is a case in point. Roth was barred Sunday from entering Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese territory normally regarded as a bastion of free speech in the region, where he had planned a news conference.

“I had hoped to spotlight Beijing’s deepening assault on international efforts to uphold human rights,” Roth said in a statement. “The refusal to let me enter Hong Kong vividly illustrates the problem.”

Officials in Hong Kong, which manages its immigration policy separate from the rest of China, declined to comment on the specifics of Roth’s case.

In Beijing, however, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry indicated that the central government had been involved in barring Roth from the territory. The spokesman, Geng Shuang, said Monday that it was “China’s sovereign right to decide who shall be granted entry and who shall be denied it.”

Geng also suggested that the refusal was punishment for Human Rights Watch’s criticism of the government’s response to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong last year. After President Donald Trump signed legislation authorizing sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations in Hong Kong, China said it would punish nongovernmental groups, including Human Rights Watch, which it blamed for violence during the protests.

Geng said that such groups were “supporting anti-China rioters in Hong Kong through various means” and that they bore “major responsibility for the current chaos in Hong Kong.”

Chinese officials have sought to attribute the antigovernment demonstrations in Hong Kong to foreign interference, but have offered little solid evidence to support their claims.

The new report, more than 650 pages long, examined threats to human rights around the world. In Syria and Yemen, warring parties ignore protections for civilians, the group said, while in the United States, the Trump administration has “rolled out inhumane immigration policies and promoted false narratives that perpetuate racism and discrimination.”

And leaders such as Trump, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil “bridle at the same body of international human rights law that China undermines,” Roth wrote.

But the group focused in particular on China. Its report argued that under Xi Jinping, China’s authoritarian leader, the country is experiencing its “most pervasive and brutal oppression in decades.”

The authorities have shut down civic groups and independent journalism, severely censored online conversations, persecuted ethnic and religious minorities, and challenged Hong Kong’s limited freedoms, the report noted.

It also pointed to China’s crackdown on predominantly Muslim minority groups in its northwest, which includes widespread surveillance and the mass detention of 1 million or more people, in an effort to strip them of their faith, ethnicity or independent political views.

“This brazen endeavor reflects a totalitarian impulse to re-engineer people’s thinking until they accept the supremacy of party rule,” the group said.

China wields its international influence at the United Nations, the report said, and has sought to block human rights measures elsewhere out of fear that those tools could be used to examine its own record.

It has also used access to the Chinese market to punish businesses such as the National Basketball Association, the report noted. After the Houston Rockets general manager expressed support for Hong Kong protesters, the NBA’s China business partners suspended ties with the league.

And Cathay Pacific Airways, the Hong Kong-based carrier, fired employees who supported the protests after the Chinese government threatened to restrict access to its airspace.

The report also warned of the risk to free expression at universities that take in a growing number of students from China. While some pro-Beijing students have tried to shut down discussion on issues such as Hong Kong, others students from China who are interested in such topics find themselves at risk of retaliation at home, it said.

(Jan. 14, 2020)