Human Rights Developments
Defending Human Rights
The Role of the International Community
Chinese authorities showed no signs of easing stringent curbs on basic freedoms. Their preoccupation with social stability, fueled by a rise in worker and farmer protests, severe urban unemployment, and separatist movements in Tibet and Xinjiang, led to tight political control. The leadership continued to see unauthorized religious practices as potentially subversive.
China reacted to perceived threats with repression, control of information, and ideological campaigns. It released a few dissidents before their prison terms expired, but it imprisoned many more for acting in support of their political or religious beliefs. The government attempted to cut off the free flow of information within China and between China and other countries. The Internet and its potential for free exchange of ideas generated particular alarm in official circles, but academics, journalists, publishers, and film makers all faced censorship. On the ideological side, President and Party Secretary Jiang Zemin initiated two campaigns, the "three stresses" and the "three represents," to reinforce unity within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and convince China's citizens of benefits of the CCP's role.
On the positive side, Chinese authorities continued to reform the legal system, seeking international expertise to help design new legal structures, train judicial and legal personnel, and help disseminate information on the reforms to the public, the courts, and the police.
Human Rights Developments
The government systematically suppressed independent political activities. From October 25, 1999 through July 2000, courts in four cities sentenced ten leaders of the dissident-led China Democracy Party (CDP) to heavy prison terms, primarily on subversion charges. Wu Yilong, who helped set up CDP provincial preparatory committees, received eleven years; Tong Shidong, who put together the only on-campus CDP branch, and Zhu Zhengming, who took part in drafting the CDP's founding documents, received ten-year terms. Other members received sentences ranging from five and a half to eight years.
In December 1999, Wang Yingzheng received a three-year sentence for advocating political reform to combat corruption. In February 2000, the Hangzhou Intermediate Court sentenced Wang Ce, chairman of the exile organization Alliance for a Democratic China, to a four-year term for "entering China illegally and endangering state security." An Jun, founder of the nongovernmental organization Corruption Watch, was sentenced to four years in prison on April 5 on charges of inciting the overthrow of the government.
Chinese authorities struggled to gain control of the Internet, with its estimated 16 million users. By the end of 1999, regulations had already banned web operators from linking to foreign news sites, and companies operating websites from hiring their own reporters. New regulations issued in March 2000 forbade China-based websites from reporting news from "independent news organizations," thus limiting them to state-controlled sources. In January 2000, the Ministry of State Security announced the closure of web sites, chat rooms, and Internet news groups posting undefined "state secrets," and expressly banned the use of e-mail in that context. The government also announced regulations limiting the use of encryption programs.
Starting in March, some twenty provinces set up special Internet police to expand the sao huang ("sweep away the pulp") campaign, ostensibly aimed at removing pornography from the Internet. In practice it was used to ban postings the government considered objectionable.
In May, authorities shut down the private-sector China Finance Information Network after it published a report on corruption. On September 19, a Hebei court sentenced Qi Yanchen, a founding member of the quasi-independent China Development Union, to a four-year prison term, in part for posting parts of his book, The Collapse of China, on the Internet. Huang Qi, who ran a website out of Sichuan province, was charged with subversion after he posted letters criticizing the 1989 massacre. Officials in Sichuan accused Jiang Shihua, a high school teacher and Internet cafe manager, with subversion for posting articles critical of communist authorities. In August, state security police in Shandong province shut down New Cultural Forum, a website set up by pro-democracy activists.
Stringent new regulations came into force on September 26, 2000 banning any materials judged subversive, supportive of so-called cults, damaging to reunification efforts with Taiwan, or harmful to China's reputation. Content and service providers were required to keep records of all users and content for 60 days and to hand over the information to police on demand.
Chinese authorities continued to target the print media and publishing industry. In April, after removing the publisher of two popular newspapers, China Business and Jingping Consumer's Guide, the CCP re-issued stern warnings that the media must "lead the ideology of the people through news propaganda." In June, the warnings were backed up the announcement that a new internal directive required all media to uphold the CCP line. In July, editors in about a dozen publishing houses were replaced, demoted, or transferred for flouting the directive. In September, authorities in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, confiscated over 60,000 copies of nine "illegal" newspapers and arrested an "illegal" editor-in-chief for setting up and distributing a newspaper without permission.
On August 12, the political unit of a local Public Affairs Bureau detained U.S.-based poet Bei Ling after his journal, Qingxiang (Tendency), was published for the first time in Beijing. The 400-page issue, all copies of which were confiscated, contained articles by well-known dissidents and a photograph of exiled student leader Wang Dan. After enormous international pressure, Bei Ling was deported on August 26, and his brother, Huang Feng, also detained, was released, but not until the family had paid part of a 200,000 renminbi (approximately U.S. $25,000) fine.
In January 2000, several weeks after the Chinese Cultural Renaissance Movement published the first and only issue of its Bulletin, police took four members into custody. All were released except Wang Yiliang in Shanghai, who was serving a two-year administrative sentence on the trumped-up charge of disseminating pornography. In June, Beijing Publishing House canceled the release of Waiting, the award-winning novel by expatriate Ha Jin, after it was attacked by a Beijing University professor as a plot to show "China's backwardness." In August, customs officials impounded and held for a month some 16,000 copies of The Clinton Years by a former White House photographer. The book, published in the U.S., printed in Hong Kong, and shipped to China for binding, included a picture of U.S. President Clinton and the Dalai Lama.
Chinese authorities refused permission to include works by a Hong Kong writer in an international book fair in Beijing because of his views on Taiwan. Officials also banned actor-director Jiang Wen from film-making in China after his film that won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, Guizi Laile (Devils on the Doorstep), was judged unpatriotic.
Social scientists also came under increased pressure. Song Yongyi, a librarian at Dickinson College in the U.S., was detained in China in August 1999 in connection with his research on the Cultural Revolution. He was released in January 2000. In June, a Guangming Daily editorial criticized four prominent academics, Fan Gang, Mao Yushi, Liu Junning, and Li Shenzhi, for teaching Western theoretical perspectives. Liu was fired from his professorship at the Political Science Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He Qinglian, an economist and author of the highly critical Pitfalls of Modernization, was dismissed as editor of the Shenzhen Legal Daily in July. Shenzhen media and publishing houses were warned not to publish her writings.
The government continued to be suspicious of unauthorized contacts with foreigners. It intensified efforts to prevent Bao Tong, former aide to deposed Chinese Communist Party secretary Zhao Ziyang, from meeting with other intellectuals or with the foreign press. Authorities prevented Ding Zilin, whose son was killed on June 4, 1989 and who has rallied relatives of the Tiananmen Square victims, from meeting Lois Snow, widow of renowned journalist Edgar Snow.
The government's campaign to crush the Falun Gong continued unabated and was extended to include other qi gong, or organized meditation groups, that authorities accused of spreading superstition. In October 1999, the government formally deemed Falun Gong a cult, banned under the Chinese Criminal Code, enabling authorities to impose harsh sentences on its members. Trials of at least eight Falun Gong leaders in November and December 1999 resulted in prison sentences ranging between two and eighteen years, and trials of other memberscontinued well into 2000. In August, the director of the Religious Affairs Bureau admitted that 151 Falun Gong members had been convicted of leaking state secrets, creating chaos, or other crimes. Many detentions came as a result of silent, peaceful protests. On National Day, October 1, and the days following, security forces beat and detained scores of protestors in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. By late October, Falun Gong practitioners were claiming that more than fifty members had died in detention or as a result of mistreatment.
Zhong Gong, a qi gong group claiming 38 million adherents, and several smaller groups were also targeted. Authorities closed down much of Zhong Gong's extensive business network, including its training centers, trading companies, clinics, and health spas, seized its assets, and detained several members. In September, the U.S. refused China's request to extradite Zhang Hongbao, the leader of Zhong Gong, whom Chinese authorities accused of rape. The Chinese government planned an appeal.
Despite the assertion by a Chinese delegation attending the August 2000 Millennium World Peace Summit in New York that "there is no religious persecution in China," Protestant house church members and Catholic "underground" believers came under increased pressure. A decree promulgated in late September by the State Administration of Religious Affairs imposed stringent new controls over the religious activities of foreigners. Also in September, a Communist Party official asserted that religious theology must be made compatible with the socialist system.
In Anhui province, new regulations that came into force in January led to an increase in detentions, particularly of Protestants; forty-seven members of the Full Circle Church were among those detained. The group's leader, Xu Yongzi, was released in May after serving a three-year sentence. Detentions and church closings occurred in other provinces as well, including an extensive crackdown in Guangdong in May. On August 23, police in Henan province detained some 130 members of the Fangcheng church, among them three U.S. missionaries who were released and deported within forty-eight hours. Eighty-five of the 130 were "reeducated," according to Chinese authorities, and returned home.
State interference in Catholic affairs was evident in January when the officially-sanctioned Chinese Catholic church, rather than the Pope, ordained five new bishops. As of October, at least seven Catholic bishops remained in detention in China, many of whom had been held for years. On September 14, sixty police officers took eighty-one-year-old Bishop Zeng Jingmu into custody, together with two priests.
Social unrest appeared to be growing. Local governments faced widespread demonstrations, riots, sit-ins, and other forms of protest. In November 1999, a court in Shaanxi province sentenced Ma Wenlin to a five-year prison term on charges of "disturbing the social order" for having brought farmers' complaints to the State Council in Beijing.
Legal reform moved forward, but judicial abuses were still common. In Hebei province, a high court on three occasions overturned murder convictions against four peasants, citing doctored evidence, torture, and threats. Local officials, however, decided to try the men again. In Guangzhou, in July 1999, a migrant woman who appeared upset and who failed to present identification to police, was gang raped after police took her to a psychiatric ward. Her decision to press for an investigation led to destruction of evidence and allegations that she had fabricated the case. Only after the case had been publicized in November 1999 was one of the perpetrators charged with rape and eventually convicted, and three police reportedly dismissed.
Chinese courts continued to impose the death penalty for a wide variety of offenses, a list that grew as authorities stepped up their anti-corruption campaign. In October, China's highest court issued a judicial interpretation calling for more aggressive use of the death penalty against smugglers of arms, counterfeit currency, and endangered species, and against government officials who aided them. The executions of two high CCP officials were extensively publicized as warnings to other officials involved in bribe-taking: Cheng Kejie, former vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (China's legislature), executed on September 14, was the highest ranking official executed since the founding of the PRC in 1949; Hu Changqing, former governor of Jiangxi province and former deputy director of the Religious Affairs Bureau, was sentenced in February and executed March 8.
South Korean NGOs reported the forcible repatriation of North Korean refugees by Chinese authorities, but independent confirmation was not possible.
Chinese authorities continued to suppress suspected "splittist" activities in Tibet and exert control over religious institutions. Officials embarked simultaneously on campaigns to vilify the Dalai Lama and to convince the international community that Chinese policies in Tibet had ensured economic well-being and respect for human rights.
In December 1999, one of the most senior religious figures in Tibetan Buddhism, the then fourteen-year-old 17th Karmapa, fled Tibet for India. In the wake of his escape, authorities moved his parents out of Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR); detained several people at Tsurphu, the Karmapa's monastery; and replaced some monks. The same week as the escape, Chinese authorities announced their recognition of another high-ranking figure, the two-year-old 7th Reting Rinpoche, thereby once again asserting a government role in the selection and installation of Tibetan religious figures. In May, authorities detained eight Reting monks who protested the choice.
Between April, when officials of the TAR met in Chengdu, Sichuan province, and July, government controls over monasteries and religious rituals increased. A government circular severely curtailed celebrations of the Dalai Lama's birthday in July. Officials searched the homes of nongovernmental workers and non-CCP members for materials on the Dalai Lama or other evidence of religious activity. Vacationing students were warned to stay away from monasteries and temples on pain of expulsion, and, on July 4, the official Tibet Daily instructed parents and schools to enhance atheistic education to "help rid [the children] of the bad influence of religion." Later the same month, officials intensified their drive to reduce the numbers of monks and nuns.
Detentions of monks and nuns for their peaceful pro-independence activities continued. In March, authorities in Sog county detained eight Tibetans, five of them monks. Resistance to "patriotic reeducation" and involvement in independence activities resulted in one death and five arrests in Chamdo in May.
Starting in January, authorities again blocked broadcasts by the Oslo-based Voice of Tibet.
Political and religious repression was evident in Xinjiang, but the Chinese government also faced a genuine security threat from armed groups. Premier Zhu Rongji visited in September and called for an "iron fist" stance against splittists, religious fundamentalists, and terrorists. At least twenty-four alleged terrorists, most of them ethnic Uighur Muslims, were executed during the year.
Chinese authorities initiated a propaganda campaign in Xinjiang in May 2000. In villages surrounding Kashgar, close to the Pakistan border, thousands of cadres, making use of film clips, exhibitions, and a drama based on local alleged terrorist activities, went house to house warning residents against the separatist danger and reiterating China's claim to Xinjiang. In September, a banner stretched across the marketplace in Hotan read, "Severely smash the separatist backbone elements, the violent terrorist criminals and the religious extremists who lead them."
In December 1999, the Regional Press and Publications Bureau, the Urumqi City Bureau for Industry and Commerce, and the Public Security Bureau closed a facility for printing "illegal religious propaganda."
In March, Uighur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer was sentenced to eight years in prison for "illegally passing intelligence outside China." The information in question consisted of underlined newspaper articles sent to her husband, a U.S.-based political refugee. She had been detained in August 1999 just before a meeting with several U.S. congressional staff. Her eldest son and her secretary were administratively sentenced to two- and three-year terms in November 1999.
Over one hundred Muslims were reportedly detained in Urumqi for advocating the implementation of Islamic law.
Human rights in the Special Administrative Region (S.A.R) of Hong Kong were generally respected but there were ominous signs of censorship and threats to academic freedom and judicial independence. On December 3, 1999, the Court of Final Appeal capitulated to Chinese government pressure and agreed to interpret more narrowly the right of residency in Hong Kong. (In May 1999, following an earlier Court of Final Appeal ruling which set wide eligibility parameters, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa had invited Beijing to review the decision. The U.N. Human Rights Committee's observations on the SAR's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in November 1999 strongly criticized Tung's move.) In February 2000, Hong Kong officials agreed to consult Beijing before they began drafting laws on sedition, subversion, and treason.
In April, a senior official of the central government's Liaison Office warned Hong Kong journalists against advocating Taiwanese independence, saying they should report only what was in the interests of Beijing. The warning came after Taiwan's vice-president said on local television that Taiwan should be "a remote relative and close neighbor" of China. In June, an official representative of Beijing in Hong Kong told a meeting of SAR businessmen that choosing pro-independence Taiwanese partners could jeopardize their mainland business dealings. The Liaison Office also warned Hong Kong Catholics to keep celebrations "low key" over the canonization of 120 victims of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China. In September, the Chinese government warned Anson Chan, the head of the civil service in Hong Kong, that she and her entire staff must step up their support of the SAR's chief executive.
Controversy broke out in July when Dr. Chung Ting-yiu, director of the Public Opinion Program of the University of Hong Kong, made public his suspicions that Tung Chee-hwa might be behind pressure to stop the university from conducting polls on Tung's declining popularity. On August 29, an independent panel decided that messages from university administrators to Dr. Chung were "calculated to inhibit his right to academic freedom." In September, the administrators in question resigned.
A 1997 Public Order Ordinance came under attack in September after police used it to arrest five university student leaders who had led protests against a projected increase in tuition. The charges were dropped after three colleges urged leniency. The ordinance gave police effective veto power over proposed demonstrations
In September 2000, elections for the Legislative Council (Legco) were held for the second time since 1997. The pro-China Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong won eleven seats, while the liberal Democratic Party did only slightly better, winning twelve. Turnout was low. Earlier in the year, leaders of all democratic parties had called for direct election of all Legco seats by 2008 in place of the existing partly elected, partly appointed system.
China and Tibet
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Copyright © 2001
Human RIghts Watch