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28 February 2005

State Report Says China Still Committing Numerous Rights Abuses

War on Terror used as pretext for suppressing Muslim religious leaders

Although the Chinese constitution was amended in 2004 to mention human rights for the first time, the Chinese government's human rights record remained poor and the government continued to commit "numerous and serious human rights abuses," the U.S. Department of State says.

According to the State Department report on human rights practices in China for 2004 released February 28, citizens of China do not have the right to change their government, and many who openly expressed dissenting political views were harassed, detained or imprisoned, "particularly in a campaign late in the year against writers, religious activists, dissidents, and petitioners to the Central Government."

The report adds that Chinese authorities "were quick to suppress religious, political, and social groups that they perceived as threatening to government authority or national stability, especially before sensitive dates such as the 15th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre and other significant political and religious occasions." 

The government also used the international War on Terror "as a pretext for cracking down harshly on suspected Uighur separatists expressing peaceful political dissent and on independent Muslim religious leaders."  The human-rights situation in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and in some Tibetan regions outside the TAR also remained poor.

According to the report, human-rights abuses committed by the Chinese government included: extrajudicial killings, torture and mistreatment of prisoners leading to numerous deaths in custody, coerced confessions, arbitrary arrest and detention, and incommunicado detention.  The report also cites a "particularly egregious" lack of due process in death penalty cases, noting that executions often took place on the day of conviction or on the denial of an appeal.

Violence against women, including imposition of "a coercive birth limitation policy that resulted in instances of forced abortion and forced sterilization," remained a problem, according to the report.  Also noted were the continuing trafficking in persons and discrimination against women, persons with disabilities and minorities.

The full text of the report on China is available at:

http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2004/41640.htm

Following is an excerpt from the report:

(begin excerpt)

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau)

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2004
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 28, 2005

The People's Republic of China (PRC) is an authoritarian state in which, as specified in its Constitution, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP or Party) is the paramount source of power. Party members hold almost all top government, police, and military positions. Ultimate authority rests with the 24-member political bureau (Politburo) of the CCP and its 9-member standing committee. Leaders made a top priority of maintaining stability and social order and were committed to perpetuating the rule of the CCP. Citizens lacked the freedom to express opposition to the Party-led political system and the right to change their national leaders or form of government. Socialism continued to provide the theoretical underpinning of national politics, but Marxist economic planning has given way to pragmatism, and economic decentralization has increased the authority of local officials. The Party's authority rested primarily on the Government's ability to maintain social stability; appeals to nationalism and patriotism; Party control of personnel, media, and the security apparatus; and continued improvement in the living standards of most of the country's 1.3 billion citizens. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, in practice, the Government and the CCP, at both the central and local levels, frequently interfered in the judicial process and directed verdicts in many cases.

The security apparatus is made up of the Ministries of State Security and Public Security, the People's Armed Police, the People's Liberation Army (PLA), and the state judicial, procuratorial, and penal systems. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces. Security policy and personnel were responsible for numerous human rights abuses.

The country's transition from a centrally planned economy toward a market based economy continued. Although state-owned industry remained dominant in key sectors, the Government has taken steps to restructure major state-owned enterprises (SOEs), privatized many small and medium SOEs, and allowed private entrepreneurs increasing scope for economic activity. Rising urban living standards; a burgeoning middle class; greater independence for entrepreneurs; the reform of the public sector, including government efforts to increase transparency and eliminate administrative hurdles; and expansion of the private sector, including foreign-invested enterprises, continued to increase workers' employment options and reduce state control over citizens' daily lives.

The country faced many economic challenges, including reform of SOEs and the banking system, growing unemployment and underemployment, an aging population, the need to construct an effective social safety net, and rapidly widening income gaps between coastal and interior regions and between urban and rural areas. In recent years, between 100 and 150 million persons voluntarily left rural areas to search for better jobs and living conditions in cities, where they were often denied access to government-provided economic and social benefits, including education and health care. The Government continued to relax controls over migration from rural to urban areas, and many cities took steps to expand the rights of migrants and their dependents to basic social services. In the industrial sector, continued downsizing of SOEs contributed to rising urban unemployment that was widely believed to be much higher than the officially estimated 4 percent, with many sources estimating the actual figure to be as high as 20 percent. The Government reported that urban per capita disposable income in 2003 was $1,028 and grew by 9 percent over the previous year, while rural per capita cash income was $317 and grew by 4 percent. Official estimates of the percentage of citizens living in absolute poverty showed little change from the previous year. The Government estimated that 30 million persons lived in poverty, and the World Bank estimated the number whose income does not exceed one dollar per day to be 100 to 150 million persons.

The Government's human rights record remained poor, and the Government continued to commit numerous and serious abuses. Citizens did not have the right to change their government, and many who openly expressed dissenting political views were harassed, detained, or imprisoned, particularly in a campaign late in the year against writers, religious activists, dissidents, and petitioners to the Central Government. Authorities were quick to suppress religious, political, and social groups that they perceived as threatening to government authority or national stability, especially before sensitive dates such as the 15th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre and other significant political and religious occasions. However, the Constitution was amended to mention human rights for the first time.

Abuses included instances of extrajudicial killings; torture and mistreatment of prisoners, leading to numerous deaths in custody; coerced confessions; arbitrary arrest and detention; and incommunicado detention. The judiciary was not independent, and the lack of due process remained a serious problem. The lack of due process was particularly egregious in death penalty cases, and the accused was often denied a meaningful appeal. Executions often took place on the day of conviction or on the denial of an appeal. In Xinjiang, trials and executions of Uighurs charged with separatism continued. Government pressure continued to make it difficult for lawyers to represent criminal defendants. The authorities routinely violated legal protections in the cases of political dissidents and religious figures. They generally attached higher priority to suppressing political opposition and maintaining public order than to enforcing legal norms or protecting individual rights. According to 2003 government statistics, more than 250,000 persons were serving sentences in "reeducation-through-labor" camps and other forms of administrative detention not subject to judicial review. Other experts reported that more than 310,000 persons were serving sentences in these camps in 2003.

Throughout the year, the Government prosecuted individuals for subversion and leaking state secrets as a means to harass and intimidate, while others were detained for relaying facts about Chinese human rights issues to those outside the country. Among those detained or convicted on such charges were Christian activists Zhang Rongliang, Liu Fenggang, Xu Yonghai and Zhang Shengqi, and journalists Zhao Yan, Shi Tao, Li Guozhu and members of the independent PEN Center's China branch. The Government detained individuals administratively to suppress dissent and intimidate others. In April and June, authorities detained many who planned 15th anniversary commemorations of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, including activist Hu Jia and "Tiananmen Mothers" organization founders. Similarly, military officials detained Dr. Jiang Yanyong because he wrote to government leaders requesting an official reassessment of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.

The number of individuals serving sentences for the now-repealed crime of counterrevolution was estimated at 500 to 600; many of these persons were imprisoned for the nonviolent expression of their political views. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) estimated that as many as 250 persons remained in prison for political activities connected to the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations.

The authorities granted early release from prison to Tibetan nun Phuntsog Nyidrol in February and China Democracy Party (CDP) co-founder Wang Youcai in March. Counterrevolutionary prisoners Liu Jingsheng and Chen Gang were also released during the year, after their sentences were reduced. However, many political prisoners, including Internet activists Xu Wei, Yang Zili, and Huang Qi; Uighurs Rebiya Kadeer and Tohti Tunyaz; journalists Zhao Yan and Jiang Weiping; labor activists Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang; civil activist Mao Hengfeng; Catholic Bishop Su Zhimin; Christian activists Zhang Rongliang, Zhang Yinan, Liu Fenggang, and Xu Yonghai; Tibetans Jigme Gyatso, Tenzin Deleg, and Gendun Choekyi Nyima; Inner Mongolian cultural activist Hada; CDP co-founder Qin Yongmin; and political dissident Yang Jianli remained imprisoned or under other forms of detention, some in undisclosed locations.

The Government used the international war on terror as a pretext for cracking down harshly on suspected Uighur separatists expressing peaceful political dissent and on independent Muslim religious leaders. The human rights situation in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and in some Tibetan regions outside the TAR also remained poor (see Tibet Addendum).

The Government maintained tight restrictions on freedom of speech and of the press, and a wave of detentions late in the year signaled a new campaign targeting prominent writers and political commentators. The Government regulated the establishment and management of publications, controlled broadcast and other electronic media, censored some foreign television broadcasts, and jammed some radio signals from abroad. During the year, publications were closed and otherwise disciplined for publishing material deemed objectionable by the Government, and journalists, authors, academics, Internet writers, and researchers were harassed, detained, and arrested by the authorities. Although the scope of permissible private speech has continued to expand in recent years, the Government continued and intensified efforts to monitor and control use of the Internet and other wireless technology, including cellular phones, pagers, and instant messaging devices. During the year, the Government blocked many websites, began monitoring text messages sent by mobile phones, and pressured Internet companies to censor objectionable content. NGOs reported that 43 journalists were imprisoned at year's end.

The Government severely restricted freedom of assembly and association and infringed on individuals' rights to privacy. The authorities harassed and abused many who raised public grievances, including petitioners to the Central Government. The Government outlawed public commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. Thousands of individuals protesting forced evictions and workplace and health issues were detained during the year. Petitioner issues were increasingly considered suspect by the Government, and petitioner leader Ye Guozhu was arrested in August while seeking permission to hold a 10,000-person rally against forced eviction.

While the number of religious believers in the country continued to grow, the Government's record on respect for religious freedom remained poor, and repression of members of unregistered religious groups increased in some parts of the country. Members of unregistered Protestant and Catholic congregations, Muslim Uighurs, and Tibetan Buddhists, including those residing within the TAR (see Tibet Addendum) experienced ongoing and, in some cases, increased official interference, harassment, and repression. Government officials increased vigilance against "foreign infiltration under the guise of religion." The Government detained and prosecuted a number of underground religious figures in both the Protestant and Catholic Church. Among them, Protestants Liu Fengang, Xu Yonghai, and Zhang Shengqi were sentenced for sending to overseas organizations information that the Government considered sensitive.

The extent of religious freedom varied significantly from place to place. The Government continued to enforce regulations requiring all places of religious activity to register with the Government. Many provincial authorities required groups seeking to register to come under the supervision of official, "patriotic" religious organizations. Religious worship in many officially registered churches, temples, and mosques occurred without interference, but unregistered churches in some areas were destroyed, religious services were broken up, and church leaders and adherents were harassed, detained, or beaten. At year's end, scores of religious adherents remained in prison because of their religious activities. No visible progress was made in normalizing relations between the official Patriotic Catholic Church and Papal authorities, although both the Government and the Vatican stated that they were ready to resume negotiations aimed at establishing diplomatic relations. The Government continued its crackdown against the Falun Gong spiritual movement, and tens of thousands of practitioners remained incarcerated in prisons, extrajudicial reeducation-through-labor camps, and psychiatric facilities. Several hundred Falun Gong adherents reportedly have died in detention due to torture, abuse, and neglect since the crackdown on Falun Gong began in 1999.

Freedom of movement continued to be restricted. However, the Government continued to relax its residence-based registration requirements. The Government denied the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) permission to operate along its border with North Korea and deported several thousand North Koreans, many of whom faced persecution and some of whom may have been executed upon their return, as provided in North Korean law. Abuse and detention of North Koreans in the country was also reported.

The Government did not permit independent domestic NGOs to monitor human rights conditions. However, in September, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited Beijing, Sichuan, and the TAR and toured 10 detention facilities. Although the Government extended invitations to the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Torture and the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Religious Intolerance, those visits did not occur by year's end. The Government also extended an invitation to the leaders of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, but the visit did not occur due to restrictive conditions that the Government placed on the visit. In December, the Government postponed a planned seminar by the Organization for Economic Cooperation on Socially Responsible Investment, which resulted in the cancellation of a visit by the OECD's Trade Union Advisory Council to discuss labor issues.

Violence against women, including imposition of a coercive birth limitation policy that resulted in instances of forced abortion and forced sterilization, continued to be a problem, as did prostitution. Discrimination against women, persons with disabilities, and minorities persisted. Trafficking in persons continued to be a serious problem.

Labor demonstrations, particularly those protesting nonpayment of back wages, continued. Workplace safety remained a serious problem, particularly in the mining industry. The Government continued to deny internationally recognized worker rights, including freedom of association. Forced labor in prison facilities remained a serious problem.

Significant legal reforms continued during the year, including a Constitutional amendment specifically to include protection of citizens' human rights and legally obtained private property for the first time. In July, the Government enacted the Administrative Procedures Law, which prohibits government agencies from violating citizens' rights or seizing property without clear legal authority. A new infectious disease law was enacted prohibiting discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B, and employment discrimination against those with HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B was outlawed. Treatment of some migrant workers was improved in many major cities through the passage of laws intended to guarantee migrant children access to public education and to protect migrant workers' rights to receive their salary on a regular basis. The Government enacted reforms related to interrogation of detainees, fighting corruption, procedures for requisitioning land, confiscation of personal property, extending social security, regulating religion, and providing legal aid. At year's end, it remained unclear how widely these reforms would be implemented and what effect they would have.

(end excerpt)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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