BEIJING â€” A U.N. representative on human rights said that he was followed by security officers in disguise during an official trip to China and that some activists he met with may have suffered intimidation and retaliation.
Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights, said the Chinese government’s conduct was at odds with the need for U.N. experts to have the freedom to assess situations and preserve the confidentiality of sources.
The difficulties are contained in a final report on his mission to China in August, which was emailed to The Associated Press on Tuesday. It is to be delivered to the U.N. Human Rights Council in June.
They include warnings by the Chinese government not to make direct contact with civil society organizations to arrange meetings, requests for full details of any private meetings and security officers posing as private citizens regularly following Alston.
The space for civil society has been curtailed dramatically under President Xi Jinping. He has presided over detentions of lawyers and rights activists, bloggers and others reporting on rights abuses and critiquing government policies, and tightening controls over foreign non-government organizations.
Alston’s report said that the government warned both him and individuals it considered “sensitive” not to meet with each other, and one meeting was prevented when a person was taken into custody for a couple of hours.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Wednesday that he couldn’t comment on the report as he hadn’t seen it.
“What I can say is that Chinese authorities actively supported and co-ordinated his visit to China last year, making sure it was conducted smoothly. He met with the Chinese people he wanted to meet,” Geng said. He added that the Chinese representative at the Human Rights Council would present China’s position when the report comes before it in June.
Alston’s nine-day mission in August 2016 was to assess whether the country’s policies relating to extreme poverty are consistent with its human rights obligations.
William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International, said China has “many positive things to say” on poverty relief, “but of course this gets undermined by this issue of trying to control access.”
“Unfortunately, this type of heavy-handed treatment is really par for the course in China,” said Nee. “I would say that it’s almost predictable that the government would go out of their way to intimidate sources, try to control the itinerary and not allow the special rapporteur to have the freedom of movement.”
During and after Alston’s visit, certain individuals he met or was supposed to meet “were subjected to what appear to be acts of intimidation and reprisal,” the report says. It mentions Jiang Tianyong, a prominent legal rights activist who met Alston on his trip and disappeared on Nov. 21. He has since been accused of inciting subversion of state power, and a state-run newspaper published a purported interview with him in March in which he allegedly confessed to peddling “fake news” to overseas media.
In October, Alston told the Chinese government that he had received information that the wives of two detained lawyers had allegedly been intimidated and harassed, with one of them allegedly arrested, partly in retaliation for their “co-operation” with him.
The Chinese government responded by saying that neither Wang Qiaoling’s nor Li Wenzu’s movements were restricted, nor were they illegally monitored or harassed, according to a document on the website of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Alston’s report said that China’s leadership had shown “impressive” political will in committing to building a society free of extreme poverty, but that China needed to produce and publish more accurate data to use when making policy. He also said that China needed to treat “economic and social rights as human rights.”
Associated Press video journalist Isolda Morillo contributed to this report.
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Louise Watt, The Associated Press