Every year on 10 December the international community celebrates the anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This anniversary is an opportunity for both the EU and China to examine their progress in protecting the human rights of all persons.
In recent years, China has made considerable progress in a number of areas of human development, including improving the social and economic situation for hundreds of millions of its citizens. In the sphere of civil rights, we also see a reduction in the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty, increasing professionalisation of the judiciary as well as the introduction of China's first national anti-domestic violence law.
However, we are also aware that there is an urgent need for additional progress with regard to the criminal justice system. In particular we are concerned about the failure to implement current legal protections and the adoption of laws and regulations which run contrary to China’s stated commitment to advance the rule of law. During the past year, we have been extremely troubled about the deterioration of the situation with respect to freedom of expression and association. This repression has led to the arrest, detention and conviction of human rights defenders, lawyers and others exercising rights such as freedom of religion or belief. We once again call for the release of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and Uighur academic Ilham Tohti. We remain extremely concerned about the cases of Zhang Haitao and Tashi Wangchuk and the ongoing detention and conviction of human rights lawyers and defenders detained in connection with the 9 July 2015 crackdown, including Li Heping, Wang Quanzhang, Xie Yang and in particular Jiang Tianyong. We are equally concerned about all human rights defenders and their family members who have been harassed and punished because of their work in promoting rights which are protected in China’s Constitution and international law.
In accordance with UN treaties and conventions, the European Union and its 28 Member States believe that no individual or group should be punished for seeking to exercise, protect or promote their own rights or the rights of others. As such, we urge China to immediately release any individual who has been detained as a result of such activities. We believe that persons in detention should have access to lawyers of their own choosing and their family members, and not be subjected to forced and public confessions, torture or other mistreatment.
We believe that the respect and promotion of these rights will contribute to creating a more prosperous China. Prosperity is also connected to freedom of information online and offline, which is fundamental for the free exchange of ideas and democratic debate of issues. In the coming year, we hope that China will demonstrate progress in these areas as well as in allowing foreign and domestic non-governmental organisations to operate freely and effectively in China. We will continue to work with China towards these aims.