Human Rights World Report: China

AuthorHuman Right Watch

Against a backdrop of rapid socio-economic change and modernization, China continues to be an authoritarian one-party state that imposes sharp curbs on freedom of expression, association, and religion; openly rejects judicial independence and press freedom; and arbitrarily restricts and suppresses human rights defenders and organizations, often through extra-judicial measures.

The government also censors the internet; maintains highly repressive policies in ethnic minority areas such as Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia; systematically condones—with rare exceptions—abuses of power in the name of “social stability”; and rejects domestic and international scrutiny of its human rights record as attempts to destabilize and impose “Western values” on the country. The security apparatus—hostile to liberalization and legal reform—seems to have steadily increased its power since the 2008 Beijing Olympics. China’s “social stability maintenance” expenses are now larger than its defense budget.

At the same time Chinese citizens are increasingly rights-conscious and challenging the authorities over livelihood issues, land seizures, forced evictions, abuses of power by corrupt cadres, discrimination, and economic inequalities. Official and scholarly statistics estimate that 250-500 protests occur per day; participants number from ten to tens of thousands. Internet users and reform oriented media are aggressively pushing the boundaries of censorship, despite the risks of doing so, by advocating for the rule of law and transparency, exposing official wrong-doing, and calling for reforms.

Despite their precarious legal status and surveillance by the authorities, civil society groups continue to try to expand their work, and increasingly engage with international NGOs. A small but dedicated network of activists continues to exposes abuses as part of the weiquan (“rights defense”)movement, despite systematic repression ranging from police monitoring to detention, arrest, enforced disappearance, and torture.

Human Rights Defenders

In February 2011, unnerved by the pro-democracy Arab Spring movements and a scheduled Chinese leadership transition in October 2012, the government launched the largest crackdown on human rights lawyers, activists, and critics in a decade. The authorities also strengthened internet and press censorship, put the activities of many dissidents and critics under surveillance, restricted their activities, and took the unprecedented step of rounding up over 30 of the most outspoken critics and “disappearing” them for weeks.

The April 3 arrest of contemporary artist and outspoken government critic Ai Weiwei, who was detained in an undisclosed location without access to a lawyer, prompted an international outcry and contributed to his release on bail on June 22. Tax authorities notified him on November 1 that he had to pay US$2.4 million in tax arrears and fines for the company registered in his wife’s name. Most of the other activists were also ultimately released, but forced to adopt a much less vocal stance for fear of further reprisals. Several lawyers detained in 2011, including Liu Shihui, described being interrogated, tortured, threatened, and released only upon signing “confessions” and pledges not to use Twitter, or talk to media, human rights groups, or foreign diplomats about their detention.

The government continues to impose indefinite house arrest on its critics. Liu Xia, the wife of imprisoned Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo, has been missing since December 2010 and is believed to be under house arrest to prevent her from campaigning on her husband’s behalf. In February 2011 she said in a brief online exchange that she and her family were like “hostages” and that she felt “miserable.” She is allowed to visit Liu Xiaobo once a month, subject to agreement from the prison authorities.

Chen Guangcheng, a blind legal activist who was released from prison in September 2010, remained under house arrest in 2011. Security personnel assaulted Chen and his wife in February after he released footage documenting his family’s house arrest. Noted activist Hu Jia, who was released after completing a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence in June, is also under house arrest in Beijing, the capital, with his activist wife Zeng Jinyan and their daughter Grave concerns exist about the fate of lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who was “disappeared” by the authorities in September 2009 and briefly surfaced in March 2010 detailing severe and continuous torture against him, before going missing again that April.

On June 12, 2011, despite the...

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