Where its a crime to campaign for independence.

Our Education Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, will soon have reason to be thankful for the human rights she enjoys in this country.

Tomorrow she is leaving for China, leading a Scottish Government delegation “to strengthen our engagement with China, with a particular focus on developing greater educational and research links”.   

As you might expect we sent her Amnesty’s latest China reports   to read on the plane. Alas it seems that things are getting worse rather than better, and partly this is because of the Beijing Olympics taking place in August rather than in spite of them.

It is well documented that, in bidding to host the games, the Chinese authorities indicated that this would improve their human rights record. It is becoming similarly clear that the repression extends beyond the violent crackdown on Tibetan protestors and includes the silencing of human rights activists such as Hu Jia.   

What isn’t so well known, and I only found out myself the other day, is that amongst the 68 different crimes eligible for the death penalty in China are tax fraud, killing a giant panda and “undermining national unity”.

Barring any misunderstandings over duty free allowances it’s unlikely that tax fraud will be a worry for this delegation. And I’m fairly sure the giant pandas have nothing to fear from the elite of Scotland’s educational establishment. But what about national unity?   

One way to measure the health of a political system is to look at how it deals with calls for change. Fiona Hyslop is of course a senior figure in a party whose raison d’etre is to gain Scottish independence from the UK. Now our democracy might be imperfect, but it does allow those who want constitutional change to go about their business under no greater threat than the occasional nasty remark from the opposition benches.

In contrast the people our delegation will be meeting with next week run a regime which renders independence campaigns illegal and threatens their leaders with execution.   

This is no ordinary regime and so the normal rules of engagement do not apply. I’m not saying Fiona Hyslop shouldn’t go to China. I think she’s right to do so, and Amnesty’s position has always been to pursue engagement that offers the possibility of change. But change will only come about if everyone, especially Government Ministers, is willing to speak out about it. So far the signs from the Scottish Government have been positive,  so I wish them well in the delicate (but crucial) balancing act of engagement with a repressive regime.

If you too would like to engage with the Chinese Government you can do so here.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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