China and Tibet
Preparations for the 16th Chinese Communist Party Congress and the accompanying change in China's top leadership colored human rights practices in China in 2002. Concerned with maintaining economic and social stability as the transition unfolded, leaders in Beijing appeared to calculate carefully when to tread lightly and when to crack down hard. They responded to major, well-coordinated, and sustained worker protests in China's northeast with only minimum force; moderated the response to disclosures of their failure to tackle the HIV/AIDS crisis effectively; and, when accused of abusing psychiatric science by incarcerating political offenders in mental hospitals, expressed some willingness to cooperate with the World Psychiatric Association. Chinese authorities continued to reform the legal system and professionalize judicial personnel, and agreed to include human rights training for law enforcement officials as part of a technical cooperation program with the U.N.
The leadership moved unequivocally, however, to limit free expression and build a firewall around the Internet, to destroy Falungong even beyond China's borders, and to eliminate dissident challenges. In Tibet, the government welcomed representatives of the exiled Dalai Lama for the first time since 1993, even as it continued to repress religious belief and expression. In Xinjiang, however, the regime tightened all restrictions, citing alleged Uighur collaboration with al-Qaeda.
As Chinese media outlets continued to proliferate and increasingly to challenge government guidelines, propaganda authorities responded by obstructing the free flow of information. They blocked major Internet search engines, closed publications, harassed foreign and domestic journalists, tightened controls on satellite transmission, and hampered the work of academics and activists. For two weeks in September, officials blocked access to Google, a major search engine, and diverted traffic to sites providing officially approved content. When access was restored, users reported selective blocking. Chinese authorities appeared to be using packet sniffers--devices that scan Internet transactions, including e-mail, to block text with sensitive word combinations.
A second search engine, Altavista.com, was shut down for a day, but Yahoo's China site escaped blockage. Earlier in the year, along with some three hundred other Internet companies, Yahoo had voluntarily signed a trade-association-sponsored "Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for China Internet Industry," committing itself to removing any information that the government claimed could jeopardize security, disrupt stability, break laws, or spread superstition.
The pledge mirrored Ministry of Information and Technology regulations that went into effect in early 2002. They required Internet service providers to use only domestic media news postings, to record information useful for tracking users and their viewing habits, to install software capable of copying e-mails, and to immediately end transmission of so-called subversive material.
Chinese authorities charged activists with subversion for using the Internet to promote causes ranging from political change to worker rights. In August, a Gansu court sentenced Li Dawei to an eleven-year prison term for downloading five hundred "counterrevolutionary" essays and publishing them in book form. Lu Xinhua and Wang Jinbo received four-year sentences for criticizing Jiang Zemin. Party cadre Zhou Xiubao was detained in July for an Internet posting calling for "true Marxists" in the CCP to join together. In August, public security officials detained Chen Shaowen for articles on unemployment, legal defects, and social inequities. By October 2002, courts still had not announced verdicts in the cases of five activists tried for Internet-related offenses in August and September 2001.
A campaign to close unlicensed Internet cafés, begun in April, gained momentum in June after a deadly fire in a Beijing café, and culminated in October with the promulgation of new regulations. They banned small under-capitalized cafés, limited hours of operation, banned users under sixteen, required identification card registration, and permitted authorities to see Internet use records. Most cafés had operated illegally due to restrictive licensing regulations and concomitant corruption.
Beginning January 1, Chinese authorities required foreign television outlets to use a government "rebroadcast platform" to distribute their channels, thus enhancing official censorship capabilities. A few weeks earlier, Beijing city authorities ordered the dismantling of satellite dishes provided by cable television companies to Chinese viewers. Revised "Provisions on Management of Satellite TV" required universities, hotels, residences, and government institutions to reapply to view overseas cable and satellite broadcasts. University departments had to prove research need; hotels and foreign residence complexes had to prove 80 percent foreign occupancy.
Restrictions on domestic print media escalated. Several Party circulars ordered official newspapers to use caution when reporting on sensitive issues and not to publish reports downloaded from the Internet. One circular reminded editors that all stories related to central leaders and their families required approval from "higher" authorities; that reports of major new policies must reference Xinhua, the official news service; and that even "objective" stories that might affect stability or incite the public to demand justice should not be published.
The official list of topics requiring caution included: Taiwan, Tibet, and East Turkestan independence; religious extremists and Falungong; the military; social stratification; the south-north water diversion project; advocacy of private ownership; taxes and fees in rural areas; student loans; human genetic research; private entrepreneurs as Party delegates; lawsuits against the government; villagers who sold blood; Forbes ranking lists; Confucian moral education in primary schools; university rankings; the Qinghai-Tibet railroad; and major accidents. Authorities also added restrictions on reporting legal cases.
In late 2001, after Securities Market Weekly published an article critical of wealth amassed by National People's Congress President Li Peng and his family, authorities confiscated all copies of the issue. In March 2002, officials at the Ministry of Propaganda ordered Nanfang Zhoumuo (Southern Weekend) to remove a feature story about financial irregularities at Project Hope. The Communist Youth League controls the foundation running the charity. In April, the magazine, under pressure, fired three editors. The official Worker's Daily came under fire for sympathetic reporting on the plight of laid-off workers in China's northeast. The Publicity Department of the Chinese Communist Party warned against reporting on economic restructuring and worker rights without considering the "overall national interest"; conversely, the department ordered positive reporting on the government's efforts to help workers find new jobs.
In February, a Beijing district government office issued a directive, "Regarding Strengthening the Management of Events Involving Interviews with Foreign Journalists," based on a Ministry of Foreign Affairs document. The directive stipulated that only an official in good political standing could speak for a work unit; that a written report to the district Foreign Affairs Office was required following an interview; and that requests for conducting social surveys or opinion polls be refused. The regulations prohibited interviews with Falungong "elements" or democracy campaigners, and on matters related to ethnic minorities, religion, human rights, and family planning. In November 2001, police officers detained a German crew and a CNN cameraman filming a Falungong protest, and confiscated film, press cards, residence permits, and equipment. In June, police held Chinese-Canadian journalist Jiang Xueqin for two days for investigating labor unrest in the northeast. Security officers beat a South Korean journalist covering a scuffle in the South Korean consulate between South Korean diplomats and Chinese guards. The guards had dragged away a North Korean man seeking asylum.
Authorities banned newsstand sales of Time for months after it published an article about Falungong. In June, the Economist was taken off newsstands for publishing an eighteen-page survey arguing for political reform in China. In July, officials blacked out BBC World Service Television.
The publications and film industries were not spared. In January, officials from the Party propaganda department and from six ministerial bodies announced a crackdown targeting political publications. In September, the director of the State Press and Publications Administration announced that "[a]ll possible measures should be taken to ensure that the publications market will not air voices that challenge the Party's policies and unity." A listing of banned books included best-selling novels, a scholarly work on China's income gap, one about peasants relocated from the Three Gorges dam area, and a series through which intellectuals expressed discontents. New regulations on film management permitted independent production but only with approval from the relevant State Council (China's executive body) department.
In September, the People's Daily warned cell phone spam mailers that political rumor upset social stability.
Chinese authorities moved cautiously in stemming worker unrest, especially in northeastern cities where, in March, tens of thousands of retired and laid-off workers began the largest, longest, and best-organized campaigns since the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations. They were protesting non-payment of back wages and pensions, unilateral rollbacks of severance agreements, absence of a social security safety net, and managerial corruption. In Liaoyang, security officers attacked unarmed protestors, arresting four worker representatives, Yao Fuxin, Pang Qingxiang, Xiao Yunliang, and Wang Zhaoming, on charges of "illegal assembly, marches, and protests." As of mid- November, prison authorities had denied the men access to their lawyers. In Daqing, security forces threatened employed workers with job loss if their relatives dared to protest. In all instances, Chinese authorities flouted the right to free association guaranteed in China's constitution and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights which China has ratified. China also has ignored its commitments as a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) to respect the right of freedom of association.
Other labor-related imprisonment occurred in 2002. On May 30, a Sichuan province court sentenced Hu Mingjun and Wang Sen, members of the banned China Democracy Party, to eleven- and ten-year terms, respectively, on subversion charges for supporting striking workers. On June 1, Di Tiangui was detained in Shanxi province on suspicion of subversion for trying to found a national organization for retired workers.
In a developing trend, workers, migrant laborers, and environmental activists began using the judicial system to seek redress. The Beijing-based Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims scored some successes.
Chinese authorities appeared conflicted as they grappled with an impending HIV/AIDS epidemic in China, admitting to a growing number of cases and collaborating on education and prevention with the U.N. and international agencies, but also attempting to control information flows. The ambivalence was clearest in relation to the detention and subsequent release of Dr. Wan Yanhai, internationally recognized for establishing Aizhi Action, an AIDS information project, and for his advocacy on behalf of AIDS-stricken villagers in Henan province. State security officers seized Wan on August 24 for circulating by e-mail an internal government document about the Henan epidemic. The document detailed how, after villagers sold their blood at government-run health stations and workers extracted the plasma, the workers injected villagers with the remaining pooled blood products, creating a high risk of HIV transmission. Wan was released on September 20 following an international outcry and a "confession" admitting that publishing the report was a "mistake." On September 13, Human Rights Watch and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network presented Wan with the first "Award for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights," an international award program established in 2002. He had been chosen as a recipient months before his detention.
Outspoken academics also continued to be targeted. In January, police in Anhui detained retired professor Wang Daqi for refusing to cease publishing the journal Ecological Research. Wang, who had advocated the need for political reform to stop environmental degradation, was still in detention as of mid-November 2002.
A three-month "strike hard" (yan da) campaign initiated in April 2001 to crack down on criminal activity and speed the judicial process appeared to have become a permanent feature of law enforcement in China. Targets for 2002 included organized crime; corrupt officials; and those labeled terrorists, separatists, religious extremists, or members of "criminal cults" such as Falungong practitioners. "Strike hard" directives reward convictions, thus exacerbating due process violations such as illegal detentions, hasty trials, severe sentences, and a meaningless appeal process. In Shanghai, where a judge's performance rating is based on the number of cases handled, city officials revealed that courts reduced "unnecessary formalities during interrogation, evidence presentation and court debates."
Although the government made changes to law enforcement policies and procedures aimed at bringing them closer to international standards, major discrepancies existed between the policies as written and as implemented. Changes in 2002 included new disciplinary measures for corrupt or incompetent judges; new educational and competency standards for would-be judges, prosecutors, and lawyers; a code of ethics for prosecutors; the introduction of a chief prosecutor for each case rather than a prosecution committee; a prohibition against firing judges without proper legal procedures; and, as part of the effort to eliminate corruption, annual internal disciplinary court inspections. But local cadres and Party officials still interfered in the criminal justice system; criminal "confessions" elicited by torture were admissible as evidence; and defense lawyers were routinely denied access to their clients and to prosecution witnesses.
Public security and state security officials, charged with determining if sufficient evidence existed for a case to be sent to the procuracy, a judicial agency responsible for determining if sufficient evidence exists to indict a suspected criminal offender, routinely ignored legal time limits and refused to tell family members the whereabouts of suspects. Yang Jianli, a prominent dissident and permanent U.S. resident, was detained on April 26 after having entered China a week earlier on a friend's passport. The Chinese government had refused to renew his own passport. As of late October, Yang's family was still unsure of his whereabouts. He had not had access to a lawyer although he had been formally arrested on June 21. Without a copy of the arrest warrant, which local authorities in Beijing refused to turn over, no lawyer had been willing to take his case.
China's National Bar Association reported that 70 percent of criminal defendants were not represented, a reflection of lawyers' fears that such cases jeopardized their livelihoods and freedom. Lawyers working on civil cases also faced repression. In December 2001, authorities in Shenzhen told Zhou Litai, whose practice was registered in another city, that he could not continue to work in Shenzhen. He had been representing injured and maltreated factory workers on a contingency fee basis. According to the Lawyer's Law, his license entitled him to practice anywhere in China. In June, Zhang Jianzhong, head of the members' rights committee of the Beijing Lawyers' Association, was arrested on suspicion of perjury. China's Criminal Law allows such a charge, which carries a prison term of up to seven years, if a client's statements in court contradict evidence obtained by public security officials. The perjury charge is permissible even if security officials used torture to obtain the original "evidence."
Chinese authorities continued to imprison China Democracy Party (CDP) leaders and to prevent CDP members from working with overseas dissidents, unemployed workers, or Falungong practitioners. At this writing, there had been no further word about two leaders: Zhao Zhongmin, detained after a routine safety check on a train revealed that he was carrying CDP materials; and Huang Shaoqin, traveling with him, who managed to escape into hiding. Security agents also have been on the lookout for overseas CDP members trying to enter China. In mid-June, U.S. permanent residents Wang Bingzhang and Zhang Qi--a leader of the Zhong Gong health and meditation group--and French-based former labor leader Yue Wu, went missing in Vietnam. All three were believed to be CDP members. Vietnam officials denied knowledge of the men's whereabouts. The Chinese Foreign Ministry also denied knowledge of the case after reports surfaced that the two were being held in China.
At a major religious meeting in December 2001, President Jiang Zemin announced that, "Under the current international and domestic conditions, we can only strengthen, not weaken, the Communist Party's leadership and the government's control over religion." Premier Zhu Rongji added that cults were not religion and must be eliminated. Falungong practitioners faced the most severe repression, but through use of an expanded definition of "cult," officials "legally" prosecuted a wide range of groups and believers. In December 2001, "backbone" members of the Mentuhui (a Christian group also known as the Society of Disciples) in Gansu were administratively sentenced for organizing "home sects," "cheating the people," and "disturbing social order." Authorities announced the sentences at a public rally called to "educate" the local population. In January 2002, a Fujian court sentenced Hong Kong resident Lai Kwong-keung to a two-year term and a fine of approximately U.S.$18,000 for importing bibles to China. Two codefendants from the mainland, Lin Xifu and Yu Zhudi, received three-year terms. The charges against Lai were reduced from "using a cult to undermine...the law" to "illegal trading" after U.S. President George Bush expressed concern. All three men are members of the "Shouters," an evangelical Christian group made up of small congregations without professional clergy. Little more than a week after sentencing, Lai was permitted to serve his term at home under state surveillance. In April, the arrangement was extended to Lin.
In February, members of the Holy Ghost Reform Church received seven-year terms on charges of "using a cult to undermine . . . the law." That same month, police in Hubei province detained nine members of Wilderness Narrow Door for setting up churches and meetings points, "recklessly praying," and distributing cult materials. In September, an appeals court overturned death sentences for Gong Shengliang and four other leaders of another Christian group, the South Church, on grounds of insufficient evidence. They had been charged with "fomenting an evil cult." At a new trial in early October lasting less than three days, the court sentenced Gong and two others to life in prison; the remaining leaders received fifteen-year terms. Within hours, the four who were acquitted received three-year administrative sentences.
Falungong spokespersons reported that, as in previous years, practitioners died in custody in 2002. (As of November 12, spokespersons claimed that since start of the crackdown in 1999, 513 practitioners had died in custody.) Followers from abroad detained in China, upon returning home, recounted tales of beatings and torture. Courts continued to sentence core believers to long prison terms; public security officials sent others directly to reeducation camps. In December, a Beijing court sentenced six academics to terms of up to twelve years for distributing Falungong materials. They were among some three hundred Qinghua University students and staff detained at least temporarily in connection with the Falungong crackdown. Nineteen Falungong members, tried for hacking into television stations in Chongqing Municipality or Changchun, Jilin province to broadcast information about the organization, received sentences ranging between four and twenty years.
Relations between China and the Vatican remained tense. According to FIDES, the Vatican news agency, fifty-three bishops and priests remained in custody or under police surveillance in February 2002. In June, Religious Affairs Bureau officials "took away" Father Chen Nailiang, the "underground" vicar general of Wenzhou, Zhejiang province. In July, three priests from Baoding, Hebei province received three-year terms for disturbing the social order; thirty people, most under eighteen, were detained briefly in Fujian province for attending a secret catechism class. Police interfered with two funerals for "underground" bishops by blocking access roads.
China has not lived up to its obligation to refrain from returning refugees to North Korea in situations where their lives or freedom would be threatened (the obligation of nonrefoulement). It has refused permission for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to visit its border with North Korea to assess the situation, although in a handful of cases, it did permit UNHCR officials to interview asylum-seekers in Beijing to determine refugee status. Instead, the government responded to a spate of cases in which North Koreans sought asylum in diplomatic missions in Beijing and Shenyang by tightening security around the compounds and at the North Korean border, demanding that embassies and consulates hand over the asylum-seekers, and prosecuting those who had helped North Koreans to escape. Escapes have been to various countries--not just China. Some 140 North Koreans who managed to gain access to diplomatic facilities negotiated safe passage to South Korea via a third country.
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