On the same day that imprisoned Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia, Chinese Communist Party propagandists organized a photo exhibition at the United Nations, extolling the progress of human rights in China.
Under the headline “Experience China” photographs at the exhibit, held at the U.N.’s European Headquarters in Geneva, on Dec. 10—coinciding with International Human Rights Day—depicted minority groups like Uyghurs and Tibetans smiling in traditional garb, while didactic photo captions explained their gratitude for religious and ethnic freedom under communist rule.
Rights groups were unimpressed, according to Geneva-based U.N. watchdog group U.N. Watch. “It is an outrage that the U.N. is hosting and cosponsoring—with China's Communist regime—a massive propaganda display designed to cover up the government's systematic abuses of universal human rights," said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the group, in a press release.
The organization identified with ease and alacrity the contradictions between representation and reality: “Contrary to Beijing's documented persecution of minorities and their cultures, the exhibit shows colorful photos of ethnic minorities in traditional costumes,” they wrote.
Captions accompanying such images invariably told viewers things like, “people of different ethnic groups unite fraternally in the common cause of building China while maintaining their own cultures.”
This was “despite the 2009 slaughter and ongoing persecution of Uyghurs,” the group said. The exhibit also covers up the “recent Chinese massacre and ongoing persecution” of Tibetans, with a photo of a Tibetan Buddhist monk.
The serene monk is depicted overlooking a valley where a Tibetan Buddhist religious ritual is taking place. It is widely known, however, that the Communist Party has been determined to wipe out allegiance to the Dalai Lama, and to take control of Tibetan Buddhism—including, for example, patriotic slogans amidst religious doctrine. Accompanying such soft tactics is violent repression for monks who publicly dissent, according to human rights groups. The caption for the image notes that "Tibetans believe in Tibetan Buddhism, also known as Tantrism or Lamaism, which is often thought to be of mysterious and primitive ethnic origins."
Organizers of the exhibit included the Chinese regime's State Council Information Office, their Permanent Mission to the U.N., and the United Nations Office itself.
The State Council Information Office is known as such only externally, under the technical separation between the Communist Party and the state, known as the “one office, two nameplates” system. Insiders know it by the Party title—“Office of Foreign Propaganda.”
The United Nations office in Geneva was closed and unable to give comment over the weekend.