United States: State Department’s "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" Criticizes China for Backsliding on Human Rights

On February 25, 2004, the U.S. Department of State released its 2003 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The 150-page section on China's human rights says that the Chinese government's human rights record remained poor, as it continued to commit numerous and serious abuses. According to the report, the (Chinese) Government continued its persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, and thousands of practitioners remained incarcerated in prisons, extrajudicial re-education-through-labour camps, and psychiatric facilities. Several hundred Falun Gong adherents reportedly have died in detention due to torture, abuse, and neglect since the persecution of Falun Gong began in 1999.

The U.S. Department of State points out in its human rights report that the People's Republic of China (PRC) is an authoritarian state in which, as directed by the 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 make a top priority of maintaining stability and social order and were committed to perpetuating the rule of the CCP and its hierarchy. Citizens lacked both the freedom peacefully to express opposition to the Party-led political system and the right to change their national leaders or form of government.

The report states that although legal reforms continued, there was backsliding on key human rights issues during the year 2003, including arrests of individuals discussing sensitive subjects on the Internet, health activists, labour protesters, defence lawyers, journalists, house church members, and others seeking to take advantage of the space created by reforms.

The report says that the Chinese government's human rights abuses included instances of extrajudicial killings, torture and mistreatment of prisoners, forced confessions, arbitrary arrest and detention, lengthy incommunicado detention, and denial of due process.

According to the report, the judiciary in China was not independent, and the lack of due process remained a serious problem. Government pressure made it difficult for Chinese lawyers to represent criminal defendants. A number of attorneys were detained for representing their clients actively. During the year, Beijing defence lawyer Zhang Jianzhong and Shanghai housing advocate Zheng Enchong both were sentenced to multi-year prison terms in connection with their defence of controversial clients. 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.

The report says that the Government continued to wage a severe political, propaganda, and police campaign against the Falun Gong movement. Since the Government banned the Falun Gong in 1999, mere belief in the discipline, without any outward manifestation of its tenets, has been sufficient grounds for practitioners to receive punishments ranging from loss of employment to imprisonment, and in many cases, to suffer torture and death. 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 report says, several hundred Falun Gong adherents reportedly have died in detention due to torture, abuse, and neglect since the persecution of Falun Gong began in 1999. For example, Falun Gong groups alleged that more than 50 persons died in custody in June through August, many from torture in detention camps.

According to the report, police often used excessive force when detaining peaceful Falun Gong protesters, including some who were elderly or who were accompanied by small children. During the year, there were further allegations of abuse of Falun Gong practitioners by the police and other security personnel. Since 1999, at least several hundred Falun Gong adherents reportedly have died while in police custody. In December, Liu Chengjun, sentenced to 19 years in prison in March 2002 for involvement in illegal Falun Gong television broadcasts, was reportedly beaten to death by police in Jilin City Prison. In February 2002, Chengdu University Associate Professor Zhang Chuansheng died in prison after being arrested for his involvement with Falun Gong. Prison authorities claimed he died of a heart attack, but witnesses who saw his body claimed he had been severely beaten.

Falun Gong practitioners continued their efforts to overcome government attempts to restrict their right to free assembly, particularly in Beijing, says the report. The Government initiated a comprehensive 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 re-education-through-labour camps, where in some cases, beatings and torture reportedly were used to force them to recant.

Authorities also detained foreign Falun Gong practitioners. For example, in January, two Australian citizens were deported for engaging in Falun Gong activities in Sichuan Province. In November 2001, more than 30 foreigners and citizens resident abroad were detained in Beijing as they demonstrated in support of the Falun Gong. They were expelled from the country; some credibly reported being mistreated while in custody.

The report says, the [Chinese] 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's 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 Government maintained tight restrictions on freedom of speech and of the press, says the report. During the year, the Government blocked many websites, increased regulations on Internet cafes, and pressured Internet companies to pledge to censor objectionable content. The Government continued to threaten, arrest, and imprison persons exercising free speech.

According to this report, China'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 June 4 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. Internet usage reportedly was monitored at all terminals in public libraries.

The "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" is produced annually by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour and submitted to Congress in compliance with the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.

The complete report on China, which includes Hong Kong and Macau and an addendum on Tibet, can be found online at: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2003/27768.htm

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