China, Britain in unusual rights clash after diplomats shoved

By Sui-Lee Wee and Michael Martina | Reuters

BEIJING, China, 17 December 2015

China on Thursday lashed out at Britain’s belated criticism of its security officers’ pushing of diplomats at a rights trial, in an unusual public sign of disagreement between countries supposedly enjoying a “golden” era in ties.

Plainclothes security officers on Monday shoved diplomats, journalists and protesters away from a courthouse in Beijing where prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang was on trial.

As many as 11 diplomats from countries including the United States, Germany, Britain and France had gathered to observe the trial, but were refused entry by the police.

Britain has told China the “physical mistreatment” of diplomats and journalists in Beijing was unacceptable, a Foreign Office representative said in a statement issued by the British embassy in Beijing.

On Wednesday, Hugo Swire, a Foreign Office minister responsible for Asia, “made clear to the Chinese authorities in person that such behavior is not acceptable”, the Foreign Office said.

The U.S. State Department on Monday had said it was “dismayed” at the harassment of diplomats and reporters outside the court.

Asked about the British comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said foreign governments had no right to “interfere with China’s judicial sovereignty”.

He told a daily news briefing, “The relevant personnel outside the courthouse should have obeyed the relevant requirements of China’s public security organs.”

A Foreign Office director also raised Britain’s “strong concerns” with the Chinese deputy ambassador on Tuesday, the Foreign Office said.

“The fact that they were refused access raises serious questions about due process and judicial transparency.”

Rights groups have accused Britain of turning a blind eye to abuses in China since the two countries ushered in a “golden time” in relations this year, and President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Britain in October.

Last week, activists expressed disappointment at a British government statement on International Human Rights Day that quoted Xi on human rights and omitted mention of China’s nationwide crackdown on human rights lawyers.

Britain’s statement was “shamefully disingenuous”, said a tweet by Sophie Richardson, the China director for New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch, adding that it did not support or recognize Chinese human rights defenders.

The United States, Canada and Germany had also issued strongly worded statements that day.

British officials say they can achieve more by raising issues such as human rights behind the scenes than by hectoring Beijing publicly, however.

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