The host of this year's G20 summit has "broken precedent" by denying leading civil society organizations the ability to monitor and comment on events inside the venue's media centre, activists charge.
China either ignored or refused the requests of major international non-profit organizations to participate in the Group of 20 summit in Hangzhou as observers, representatives of several such groups asserted Saturday.
They spoke to dpa on condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize their operations in China.
"I've been at the last three G20 summits but not this time. In those three years, we had up to around 40 places in the media centre and were able to provide comment to journalists," a manager of an international advocacy group told dpa.
"Basically, there is no representation by civil society at this G20 summit," a senior staff member of another major humanitarian group said.
He also noted that when China hosted the meeting of the Civil Society 20 (C20) in Qingdao in July, roughly three-quarters of organizations were affiliated with the Chinese state.
China did not agree to host a C20 event until late April, and at the time did not clarify when or where the gathering would take place.
"Chinese authorities have made their hostility to civil society painfully clear in recent years, such that no G20 members should be surprised at the restrictions imposed for the summit itself," said Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch.
"Past meetings have taken place in locations that generally were more tolerant of civil society, such that access was easier. But maddeningly a lot of 'how' any G20 is held is really up to the host - it's not a codified matter of international law," Richardson told dpa.
International advocacy organizations and prominent activists have appealed to G20 leaders to confront Beijing over what they call a dramatically worsening environment for human rights.
In June, authorities sentenced Hangzhou-based democracy activists Lü Gengsong and Chen Shuqing to prison terms of 11 and 10 and a half years respectively for their online essays, in a move seen as an attempt to intimidate other dissidents from speaking up during the G20 summit.
Of the more than 300 human rights lawyers and activists who have been detained or summoned by Chinese police since last summer, over a dozen are believed to still be in jail, according to Amnesty International.
Teng Biao, one of China's best-known human rights lawyers who fled to the United States in 2014, said silence from G20 leaders on China's human rights would amount to complicity.
"If G20 participants only talk about issues concerning the economy, if they don’t say anything about human rights, they are helping the Chinese government to crack down on the people and civil society," Teng told dpa.
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday told a meeting of G20 business leaders in Hangzhou that China is committed to "law-based governance."