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Louis Huang sits next to an ad he designed at a bus stop in Richmond, B.C., on Aug. 11, 2018.

BEN NELMS/The Globe and Mail

An activist group made up largely of Chinese immigrants is launching an advertising campaign in the Vancouver region to criticize China’s human-rights record, with an aim to raise awareness among people from that country who are now living in Canada.

The campaign began in late July with a bus shelter ad, located along one of the busiest roads in Richmond, B.C., but the Vancouver Chinese Human Rights Watch Group plans to purchase billboards and other forms of advertising to bring attention to poor human-rights conditions in China.

“The ad may raise awareness among people from the Chinese community and make them realize, in our country of birth, the human-rights situation is getting worse and worse," Louis Huang, co-ordinator with the group, said in an interview. "They may pay more attention to it in the future, which could push China’s human rights to improve.”

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The Richmond bus ad features a picture of an eagle flying in the sky. It says “Freedom democracy for China; end one-party dictatorship” in English, and “End one-party system; build democratic China,” in Chinese.

Mr. Huang said he and his group’s more than 20 members, mostly immigrants from China, covered the cost of the ad. He said future ads will touch on topics ranging from jailed dissidents to the Chinese government’s foreign influence.

“We hope more overseas Chinese will have courage to express their opinions when they see these ads. Because they’re still afraid to discuss politically sensitive topics related to China, even though they are living abroad,” he said.

The Chinese consulate in Vancouver didn’t respond to The Globe and Mail’s interview request.

Mr. Huang, who moved to Canada in 2002, has been fighting for China’s human rights for about a decade. He said since President Xi Jinping took power five years ago, the country’s human-rights situation has been worsening.

The group has previously protested outside the Chinese consulate in Vancouver, urging the government to release activists and rights lawyers who have been held in custody since the nationwide crackdown in 2015 and then-imprisoned Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died in jail last year.

Pitman Potter, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, said China has tightened its grip on freedom of expression, religious freedom and people’s private rights under President Xi’s leadership.

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“There has been a dramatic increase of oppression in Xinjiang in particular, but also in Tibet," Dr. Potter said. “When you look at the social-credit system that basically keeps track of people’s behaviour electronically and create files on them … all those are recent indicators of very serious declines in human-rights conditions.”

Shawn Zhang, a Chinese-born UBC law student, has been using satellite images to track down suspected locations of camps in the Xinjiang region of China, where scholars estimate hundreds of thousands of mainly Muslim people have been forced to undergo political indoctrination.

Mr. Zhang said the overseas Chinese community cannot be apathetic towards human-rights issues in China.

“If the overseas Chinese community did nothing to address the human rights conditions in our home country, we are communicating that we don’t care about the importance of human rights in our own," he said in an e-mail. "It is dangerous because when other people realize that you do not care about human rights, why should they protect you when your own human rights are violated?”

Guo Ding, a current-affairs commentator in the B.C. Chinese community, said Canada should champion human rights, but any foreign country can hardly change the human-rights condition in China.

“The change of a [country’s] system and social value has to happen within its own society,” he said.

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Alex Neve, secretary-general at Amnesty International Canada, said members of Canada’s Chinese community who are actively involved in human-rights protection in China can play a significant role in improving such issues in China.

“The Chinese government clearly understands that their voices can be very powerful within the community," he said.

"It’s something very different to have your own neighbours and some of the community members who are speaking out of these concerns than it is to hear those criticisms or concerns raised from the outside of the community.”

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