“There is no excuse”: The international community must finish the work of holding North Korea to account

Content warning: This blog contains descriptions of rape, sexual violence and violence against infants


By Benedict Rogers

Almost exactly twenty years ago, CSW began to investigate the human rights situation in North Korea, and in particular the persecution of Christians.

It is fair to say that we were one of the very first human rights organisations to sound the alarm about the gravity and scale of human rights atrocities in the world’s most closed and most repressed nation.

The tragedy is that twenty years on, little has changed and the world continues to turn a blind eye.

Dislodging the bricks

In 2007 we published one of the first and most comprehensive studies of the atrocity crimes in North Korea, in a report titled North Korea: A Case to Answer, a Call to Act. In so doing, we became one of the first organisations to call for the establishment of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity.

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许那:遭遇过两场镇压的人生

六月是个悲伤的季节,对无数的中国人来说,1989年春夏之交发生在北京天安门广场的一切,是一条从未愈合仍在流血的伤口。在中国,“六四”是禁忌的敏感词,任何回忆和纪念都被中共当局视为公然反抗。但每年此时在世界各地都会有很多追思纪念活动。在中国,无数人的生命轨迹因为八九六四发生了巨大的改变。他们至今仍以各自无声的方式坚守着对历史的记忆。 

当年天安门广场上的绝食学生中,有一位名叫许那(又名许娜),是北京广播学院(现中国传媒大学)的学生。32年前,她曾和同学高举“新闻自由,言论自由”的横幅,满怀希望地走在北京街头游行的人群中。32年后,许那仍在北京,却已在东城区看守所被刑事拘留近一年了。 

人生巨变,监狱历程 

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Pastors or fraudsters? Neither registered nor unregistered religious leaders are safe from the Chinese Communist Party’s false allegations

Under China’s current religious regulations, only government-approved faith leaders can carry out government-approved religious activities in government-approved sites. As a result, there are many situations in which a religious leader can find themselves on the wrong side of the law in China, even facing charges that have no apparent connection to religion but can carry lengthy sentences.

The widely-reported cases of Pastor Wang Yi and Pastor Yang Hua highlight how the Chinese authorities prosecute leaders of unregistered Protestant churches with flagrantly baseless criminal charges: ‘inciting to subvert state power’ and ‘illegal business operations’ for Wang and ‘divulging state secrets’ for Yang. Alarmingly, fraud charges seem to have become one of the most damaging tools that the authorities use against pastors, for persecution as well as defamation.

Elder Zhang Chunlei

On 1 May 2021, the day the new administrative measures on religious clergy came into effect, Love Reformed Church received a notice saying their leader Zhang Chunlei had been officially arrested ‘on suspicion of fraud’. To this, the unregistered church in Guiyang in Guizhou province expressed incredulity in a prayer update issued on the same day.

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From one crackdown to another: The life of Xu Na

In China, June is a sombre month for those who remember the mass pro-democracy protests across the country and the military’s bloody crackdown in 1989. Remembrance itself is an act of defiance against the suppression and manipulation of history by the Chinese authorities. Each year, events are held worldwide to pay tributes to the victims and their families.

What is less widely reported however, is how survivors’ lives have been changed by the tragic events of  ‘June 4th’, as the events are known in China.

One of the protesters on Tiananmen Square was Xu Na, then a student at Beijing Broadcasting Institute (BBI). She was holding a banner with her fellow friends that read “Freedom of the Press; Freedom of Speech” while marching through the Beijing streets. Thirty-two years later, Xu Na is in another place in Beijing: Dongcheng District Detention Centre, where she has been criminally detained for the past 11 months.

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“No respect for human dignity”: Remembering China’s 709 Crackdown

On 9 July 2015 the Chinese authorities began an extensive crackdown on human rights defenders (HRDs) and their friends and family members. Dubbed the ‘709 Crackdown’ after the date on which it began, the campaign saw over 300 lawyers, activists and their associates detained, interrogated or imprisoned.

Some of those detained have since vanished into China’s prison system. Many others have since been released, and with them have emerged reports of physical and psychological torture, including frequent beatings, sleep deprivation, forced medication, violent threats, and prolonged isolation. One of those released is human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who was finally reunited with his family in April 2020 after serving nearly five years in prison. During his imprisonment, Wang suffered several health issues, losing approximately 30 pounds and showing signs of memory loss.

Five years since the crackdown began, pressure on HRDs in China continues to increase, with some forced to scale back their work on ‘sensitive’ cases or leave the profession entirely. Today we reflect on the crackdown, and its repercussions which continue to be felt across China, in the words of those who lived through it:

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