U.S. State Department's Annual Report Says China Continues Persecution of Falun Gong and Violation of Human Rights

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The following is an excerpt of the "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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

During the year, politically motivated and other arbitrary and unlawful killings occurred. 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. Some groups based abroad estimated that as many as 2,000 Falun Gong practitioners have died as a result of official persecution.

Since the crackdown on Falun Gong began in 1999, several hundred Falun Gong adherents reportedly died in custody due to torture, abuse, and neglect. During the year, the Government arrested Falun Gong members and formally charged them with manufacturing claims that they were tortured.

During the year, there were reports of persons, including Falun Gong adherents, sentenced to psychiatric hospitals for expressing their political or religious beliefs. Some reportedly were forced to undergo electric shock treatments.

Petitioners and other activists sentenced to administrative detention also reported being tortured. Such reports included being strapped to beds or other devices for days at a time, being beaten, being forcibly injected or fed medications, and being denied food and use of toilet facilities.

The Government generally did not permit independent monitoring of prisons or reeducation-through-labor camps, and prisoners remained inaccessible to most international human rights organizations. By year's end, the Government had not announced any progress in talks with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on an agreement for ICRC access to prisons, although there were several rounds of consultations between the ICRC and the Government about allowing the ICRC to open an office in Beijing

Arbitrary arrest and detention remained serious problems. The law permits authorities, in some circumstances, to detain persons without arresting or charging them, and persons may be sentenced administratively to up to 3 years in reeducation through-labor camps and other administrative detention facilities without a trial. Because the Government tightly controlled information, it was impossible to determine the total number of persons subjected to new or continued arbitrary arrest or detention. According to 2003 official government statistics, more than 250,000 persons were in reeducation-through-labor camps. Other experts reported that more than 310,000 persons were serving sentences in these camps in 2003. According to published reports of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the country's 340 reeducation-through-labor facilities had a total capacity of about 300,000 people. In addition, special administrative detention facilities existed for drug offenders and prostitutes. In 2002, these facilities held over 130,000 offenders, and the number reportedly has increased. An additional form of administrative detention for migrants and homeless persons, known as custody and repatriation, was abolished in 2003 and converted into a system of over 900 voluntary humanitarian aid shelters. According to official statistics, those facilities had served more than 670,000 people from August 1, 2003 to November 30, 2004. The Government also confined some Falun Gong adherents, petitioners, labor activists, and others to psychiatric hospitals.

Extended, unlawful detention by security officials remained a serious problem. The SPP reported that from 1998 through 2002 there were 308,182 persons detained for periods longer than permitted by law.

A special form of reeducation center was used to detain Falun Gong practitioners who had completed terms in reeducation through labor, but whom authorities decided to detain further.

According to foreign researchers, the country had 20 "ankang" institutions (high-security psychiatric hospitals for the criminally insane) directly administered by the Ministry of Public Security. Some dissidents, persistent petitioners, and others were housed with mentally ill patients in these institutions. "Patients" in these hospitals were reportedly given medicine against their will and forcibly subjected to electric shock treatment. The regulations for committing a person into an ankang facility were not clear. Credible reports indicated that a number of political and trade union activists, "underground" religious believers, persons who repeatedly petitioned the Government, members of the banned China Democratic Party, and Falun Gong adherents were incarcerated in such facilities during the year

Since the Government banned the Falun Gong spiritual group in 1999, criminal proceedings involving accused Falun Gong activists were held almost entirely outside the formal court system. In December, a Beijing attorney sent an open letter to the National People's Congress highlighting issues of arbitrary detention and unlawful process in cases involving Falun Gong. The letter focused on the April detention and subsequent administrative sentencing of his client, Huang Wei of Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, who was released in 2002 from a 3-year reeducation sentence for Falun Gong activities. On April 13, Huang was detained again, his home was searched, and a security official signed Huang's name on a confession, according to the open letter. Huang was sentenced on June 3 to three more years of reeducation in connection with Falun Gong. When Huang tried to sue the Government in protest, his attorney was denied permission to see his client. According to the letter, court and prison authorities told the attorney that only the 610 Office of the Ministry of Justice could address Falun Gong matters. In the process, the letter described how judges explained that courts are under strict orders not to accept Falun Gong cases and that, in such cases, the courts do not follow normal pretrial procedures. The attorney's letter concluded that such treatment of accused Falun Gong adherents was unlawful.

During the year, authorities monitored telephone conversations, facsimile transmissions, e-mail, text-messaging, and Internet communications. Authorities also opened and censored domestic and international mail. The security services routinely monitored and entered residences and offices to gain access to computers, telephones, and fax machines. All major hotels had a sizable internal security presence, and hotel guestrooms were sometimes bugged and searched for sensitive or proprietary materials.

The Constitution states that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are fundamental rights to be enjoyed by all citizens; however, the Government tightly restricted these rights in practice. The Government interpreted the Party's "leading role," as mandated in the preamble to the Constitution, as circumscribing these rights. The Government continued to threaten, arrest, and imprison many individuals for exercising free speech. A wave of detentions late in the year appeared to signal a new campaign against writers. Internet essayists in particular were targeted. The Government strictly regulated the establishment and management of publications. The Government did not permit citizens to publish or broadcast criticisms of senior leaders or opinions that directly challenged Communist Party rule. The Party and Government continued to control print, broadcast, and electronic media tightly and used them to propagate Government views and Party ideology. All media employees were under explicit, public orders to follow CCP directives and "guide public opinion," as directed by political authorities. Formal and informal guidelines continued to require journalists to avoid coverage of many politically sensitive topics. These public orders, guidelines, and statutes greatly restricted the freedom of broadcast journalists and newspapers to report the news and led to a high degree of self-censorship. The Government continued an intense propaganda campaign against the Falun Gong.

The country's Internet control system employed more than 30,000 persons and was allegedly the largest in the world. According to a 2002 Harvard University report, the Government blocked at least 19,000 sites during a 6-month period and may have blocked as many as 50,000. At times, the Government blocked the sites of some major foreign news organizations, health organizations, educational institutions, Taiwanese and Tibetan businesses and organizations, religious and spiritual organizations, democracy activists, and sites discussing the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. The number of blocked sites appeared to increase around major political events and sensitive dates. The authorities reportedly began to employ more sophisticated technology enabling the selective blocking of specific content rather than entire websites in some cases. Such technology was also used to block e-mails containing sensitive content. The Government generally did not prosecute citizens who received dissident e mail publications, but forwarding such messages to others sometimes did result in detention. Internet usage reportedly was monitored at all terminals in public libraries.

The Government continued to wage a severe political, propaganda, and police campaign against the Falun Gong movement. The sustained government crackdown against the movement, which the Government banned in 1999, continued, and there were no reports of public protests during the year. In many cases, Falun Gong practitioners were subject to close scrutiny by local security personnel, and their personal mobility was tightly restricted, particularly at times when the Government believed public protests were likely.

The Constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and the freedom not to believe; however, the Government sought to restrict religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship and to control the growth and scope of the activity of religious groups. Overall, government respect for religious freedom remained poor, although the extent of religious freedom varied widely within the country. Freedom to participate in officially sanctioned religious activity increased in many areas of the country, but crackdowns against unregistered groups, including underground Protestant and Catholic groups continued and worsened in some locations. The Government continued its repression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement in particular.

Practitioners based abroad reported that the Government's crackdown against the group continued. Since the Government banned the Falun Gong in 1999, the mere belief in the discipline (even without any public manifestation of its tenets) was sufficient grounds for practitioners to receive punishments ranging from loss of employment to imprisonment. Although the vast majority of the tens of thousands of practitioners detained since 1999 have been released, many were detained again after release, and thousands reportedly remained in reeducation-through-labor camps. Those identified by the Government as "core leaders" have been singled out for particularly harsh treatment. More than a dozen Falun Gong members have been sentenced to prison but the great majority of Falun Gong members convicted by the courts since 1999 have been sentenced to prison. Most practitioners, however, were punished administratively. In addition to being sentenced to reeducation through labor, some Falun Gong members were sent to detention facilities specifically established to "rehabilitate" practitioners who refused to recant their belief voluntarily after release from reeducation-through-labor camps. In addition, hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners have been confined to mental hospitals.

Police in the past often used excessive force when detaining peaceful Falun Gong protesters. During the year, allegations of abuse of Falun Gong practitioners by the police and other security personnel continued. According to the foreign-based Global Mission to Rescue Persecuted Falun Gong Practitioners, 1,047 Falun Gong practitioners, including children and the elderly, have died since 1997 as a result of official persecution. Other groups based abroad estimated that as many as 2,000 practitioners have died in custody.

As recently as 2003, the Government continued its effort to round up practitioners not already in custody and sanctioned the use of high-pressure tactics and mandatory anti-Falun Gong study sessions to force practitioners to renounce Falun Gong. Even practitioners who had not protested or made other public demonstrations of belief reportedly were forced to attend anti-Falun Gong classes or were sent directly to reeducation-through-labor camps, where in some cases, beatings and torture reportedly were used to force them to recant. These tactics reportedly resulted in large numbers of practitioners signing pledges to renounce the movement.

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

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