Human Rights Watch urges the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, at its next annual meeting, to adopt a strong resolution censuring China for widespread violations of human rights and calling for significant improvements. A serious multilateral effort at the Commission, which convenes in Geneva on March 20, would have more than symbolic meaning. The prospect of a debate on a China resolution would give Beijing a powerful incentive to make meaningful progress to end abuses. The decreased pressure over the last few years, when there was no action in Geneva -- or, in 1999, only a last minute attempt by the U.S.-- may have contributed to the deterioration of human rights in China during the past year.
A tightening of controls on basic freedoms in China began in late 1998, escalated throughout 1999, and has continued into the new year. The range of the crackdown, in terms of geographic spread and individuals and organizations targeted, suggests that a nationally orchestrated campaign is underway to shut down all opposition in the name of maintaining "social stability." The clear deterioration of human rights conditions demands a strong, multilateral response.
China's leadership has largely succeeded in convincing its major trading partners to move virtually all human rights discussions behind closed doors. The various bilateral dialogues with China, including the E.U.-China dialogue, have thus far been insufficient to encourage respect for universal human rights principles or to produce significant human rights progress. Although China has signed two important U.N. human rights treaties, the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it has ratified neither and instead stepped up its repression of individuals seeking to exercise the very rights the covenants were designed to protect.
Among the most important elements of the crackdown, detailed below, are:
- an intensified attack on all organizations that the Chinese Communist Party perceives as a threat to its rule;
- a series of regulations that constrain free association and assembly and religious expression but allow the Chinese government to claim it abides by the rule of law,
- the ongoing arrest of Tibetan "splittists" and tightened secular control of Tibetan Buddhism,
- the stepped up pace of arrests and executions of activists in Xinjiang,
- on-going attempts to interfere with the free flow of information at home and abroad including academic research in open sources.
Three key events marked the crackdown on social organizations and political parties. In October 1998, rigorous new regulations effectively mandated that all social organizations be government-sponsored. On November 23, 1998, a statement by former premier Li Peng effectively banned opposition political parties. In July 1999 the Falun Gong, a meditation and exercise movement, which had been applying without success to register as a social organization, was formally banned.
China Democracy Party
In December 1998, the courts sentenced three leading members of the China Democracy Party (CDP), an open opposition party, to terms of eleven, twelve, and thirteen years for "conspiring to subvert state power." Charges included: helping to organize the CDP, receiving funds from abroad, promoting independent trade unions, using e-mail to distribute materials abroad, and giving interviews to foreign correspondents. The government's attempts, largely successful, to destroy the banned organization, resulted in long prison terms for CDP members in Beijing, Shanghai, and at least eight other provinces. In all some twenty-five members have been sentenced since December 1998 to trials lacking adequate procedural safeguards and closed in all but name; three have been tried but not yet sentenced; and at least another dozen are still in detention.
Other organizational attempts stifled:
In addition to the CDP, Chinese authorities quashed the China Development Union, whose interests encompassed political and environmental reform; in February 1999, its leader, Peng Ming, was sentenced to an eighteen-month term for allegedly soliciting prostitution.
Throughout China, leaders of worker and peasant protests calling for worker rights have been detained. Also, those trying to organize workers, or protesting against exorbitant fees and taxes, endemic corruption or fixed local elections have been arrested and given sentences of up to ten years. In Chongqing, the procuracy approved the arrest of ten peasant leaders of the Southwestern Yangtse Chinese People's Workers and Farmers Army, illegal because it never registered. In Henan province in November 1999, An Jun, founder of Corruption Watch, an NGO, stood trial. In Shandong province, an attempt to organize the China National Freedom Party , modeled on the CDP, resulted in a series of detentions.
The Chinese authorities also moved aggressively against Jiang Qisheng for his activism in organizing the families of those killed and wounded in the 1989 pro-democracy crackdown, for which Chinese authorities have failed to account. His May 1999 call to the public to commemorate the event by lighting candles resulted in a trial on November 1 on charges of attempting to overthrow the government To date, no verdict has been announced.
In a speech on January 17, 2000, the head of the politics and law committee of the China's Central Committee made clear that the crackdown on Falun Gong which began on July 22, 1999 would continue throughout the year. China's leaders unveiled a massive, thoroughly coordinated crackdown against the loosely organized meditation and exercise organization. (group size is estimated to run between two and seventy million in China alone) three months after ten thousand members of Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) silently protested at Zhongnanhai, the Beijing compound housing China's top leaders. Initially a series of bans and new regulations outlawed the group; police detained thousands of practitioners for reeducation, most of whom have since been released. Millions of books were confiscated and destroyed.
On October 9, 1999 the government issued two explanations" of existing law that in effect encouraged harsh punishment of members of "heretical cults." On October 27, Xinhua, the official news agency, published evidence "proving" that Falun Gong was such an organization. Three days later, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) banned all such groups. The strategy allowed the government to claim that the intensifying censorship and crackdown on practitioners was legal. A "black list" of Falun Gong practitioners unwelcome in China reportedly has been drawn up. In addition, a clandestine press conference on October 28, 1999 with a limited number of foreign journalists resulted in the arrest of Falun Gong participants and the temporary confiscation of the journalists' credentials, followed by warnings that another such incident could result in their permanent withdrawal. On December 10, the official press reported that Beijing had leveled a fine of US$1.2 million against Falun Gong and its leader Li Hongzhi, a New York city resident, for alleged tax evasion.
On November 8, China's State Council, its cabinet, confirmed the formal arrest of at least 111 Falun Gong members, the first time any number had been officially announced. The number later was reported as 150. Few details, even names and place of arrest, are known. To date, officially confirmed sentences for thirteen people in Beijing and three provinces range between three and eighteen years, with most terms in excess of six years. Charges include setting up and using an illegal organization to print material, escaping from custody, "using a sect to destroy the implementation of the law," using the Internet to promote Falun Gong's health benefits, leaking an official speech, and helping to organize illegal gatherings. At least six others in three more locations reportedly have been tried but no verdicts have been announced. In addition, charges have been levied against at least eleven Falun Gong members for allegedly leaking state secrets through use of the Internet, and many others are being held in connection with publishing activities.
Falun Gong and government sources have disputed the number of people administratively sentenced for offenses such as allegedly gathering illegally to disturb social order, spreading anti-government propaganda, illegal publishing and stealing state secrets, and carrying out "illegal link-up activities." The authorities say they are not collecting figures nationwide and reports from various localities cannot be confirmed. However, a report citing a speech by vice-premier Li Lanqing said 35,792 Falun Gong members were detained between July 20 and October 30. Most detainees reportedly were released after brief "reeducation." An official with the news agency of the State Council said the figures represented "the total number of times individuals who attempted to assemble illegally in public places in Beijing since July were persuaded to leave or were taken away from the site." A police official did confirm a report that fifty Falun Gong members, reportedly repeat offenders, have been held in a psychiatric hospital near Beijing since December.
Falun Gong members have reported at least seven deaths, including one from an interrogation-related beating, several suicides, and several escape attempts. Chinese officials report three, two from heart attacks, including the one Falun Gong members maintain was from a beating, and one from jumping from a train in an escape attempt. Those who reported the beating death reportedly have been charged with disclosing the information to foreign sources.
In early January 2000, two Communist Party officials, Premier Zhu Rongji and State Councillor Ismail Amat, speaking to an assemblage of government religious officials, reiterated the importance of control of religion to the stability of the state and of resistance to "hostile foreign forces" which they allege use religion to undermine China's solidarity.
There have been sporadic reports of arrests and detentions of Catholics and Protestants throughout the year. A January 23, 2000 report carried news of the December detentions of Bishop Han Dingxiang and lay leader Wang Changqun, the arrests during Easter 1999 of Fathers Guo Yibao and Wang Zhenhe, and the detention of Father Xie Guolin sometime in 1999. Campaigns to register Catholic congregations in Hebei and Zhejiang forced many worshipers into hiding. In a further attempt to reaffirm the independence from the papacy of the official Catholic Church in China, the secular Religious Affairs Bureau and the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China arranged the January 6, 2000 ordination of five bishops without seeking papal approval. The move signaled continued government interference in religious affairs.
At least ninety-five Protestant house church leaders were detained early in 1999. In May, three students from China's most prestigious seminary were forced to leave for challenging the government's religious policy. Mid-November witnessed the beginnings of a crackdown on so-called syncretic congregations which combine Christianity with local religious practices. In November 1999 alone, over one hundred members of the latter groups were detained.
In January 2000, Chen Jinlong, head of Zhong Gong. a form of qigong, was sentenced to a two-year term for illegal healing. The move followed the police closure of his largest training base. The leader of Guo Gong and two of his aides were detained in late October, as was the head of the Cibei Gong. There have been reports of several official documents laying out new methods for extending the crackdown and keeping qigong groups small, localized, and limited in their activities.
During 1999, Chinese authorities continued to impede the free exchange of information no matter the medium. The on-going campaign to control the Internet picked up in January with new regulations requiring bars and cafes with Internet access to register and inform the police about their customers. By May, the Ministry of State Security was able to track individual e-mail accounts through monitoring devices on Internet Service Providers (ISPs). In addition, in an attempt to block foreign news services such as the BBC, CNN, and the New York Times, ISPs were required to erect firewalls. Bulletin boards came in for round-the-clock monitoring; several were closed for hosting political discussions or postings critical of government policies. To avoid such closure, chat rooms and bulletin boards actively police their own content. In January 2000, Shanghai took the lead in requiring corporate Internet users to register with the police. Fines for non-compliance were set as high as 50,000 renminbi (approximately U.S.$6175). On January 26, 2000, regulations retroactive to the first of the year forbade the transmittal of state secrets on the Web or through e-mail. The restrictions make both users and Web site owners liable for infractions. The broad language of the state secrets law invites selective application against anyone out of favor with the government. In addition, it has been reported that soon-to-be-introduced regulations will no longer allow websites to independently compile news or interview reporters. Instead, the websites may only carry news already compiled by domestic papers.
Lin Hai was sentenced in 1999 to a two-year prison term for supplying some 30,000 e-mail addresses to an overseas dissident publication. One report, still unconfirmed, stated that he has been released.
The publishing and print media also came in for tighter supervision. A campaign that began in January 1999 continued into January 2000 when a senior official warned local journalists to limit their investigative reporting, and vice-premier Hu Jintao warned the media to adhere to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) line. At the same time, twenty-seven newspaper were punished for offenses such as "political errors" in their stories, and in January 2000, the editor of Nanfang Zhoumou (Southern Weekend) was removed from her job. The newspaper is well-known throughout China for its reporting on politically sensitive issues. Two major stories, a huge corruption scandal in Xiamen and the flight of the Karmapa to India, went unreported in the official press though leaks were plentiful. In September, local newspapers and magazines were put under CCP control. In November, it was reported that the State Press and Publications Administration had banned foreign investment in wholesale book publication and distribution. It required local ventures to apply for authorization to operate in the wholesale market; and limited the right to distribute textbooks, political documents, and the writings of China's leaders to a handful of enterprises.
At the end of 1999, the formal arrest in China of Song Yongyi, a respected scholar of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and a permanent U.S. resident, on charges of "the purchase and illegal provision of intelligence to foreigners," set off alarm bells. Although he was released on January 28, 2000, his arbitrary arrest and detention testify to the capriciousness of "rule of law" in China and the dangers of conducting research into "sensitive" subjects even in sources freely available within China. Earlier in 1999, Liu Xianli was sentenced to a four-year term for trying to publish a work about well-known Chinese dissidents. Survey research also came in for censorship.
New regulations issued on November 24 require that every gathering of 200 or more people obtain prior approval from a local Public Security Bureau. An additional step is required for non-government affiliated organizers who must first receive approval from the relevant government department. Specifically cited as affected were sports events, concerts, and qigong or other body exercise groups.
Human rights abuses in Tibet in 1999 remained serious. There were credible reports of:
- detentions and sentencings for pro-independence activities which included
- shouting slogans,
- putting up posters,
- displaying the banned Tibetan flag;
- beatings and torture, some so severe that the prisoners died;
- government interference with religious activity including
- reeducation of monks and nuns,
- forced expulsions from monasteries of non-compliant members,
- secular selection of the reincarnation of Reting Rinpoche,
- bans on the celebration of religious festivals and the Dalai Lama's birthday,
- arrests for carrying or distributing pictures of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama,
- banning of religious teaching on pain of arrest,
- denial of access to the ten-year-old boy the Dalai Lama recognized as the Panchen Lama-he disappeared in 1995.
Only late in 1999 did the details emerge of the deaths and severe torture of prisoners involved in a peaceful prison protest during a flag-raising ceremony at Drapchi prison in May 1998, at the time of a European Union delegation visit. The delay resulted from steps Chinese authorities took to prevent details about the incident from spreading. At least ten people died; at least six others had their sentences extended; many prisoners were confined to their cells for over a year without access to minimum sanitation.
Other major abuses of human rights occurred in the past year. In August, two foreigners and their Tibetan translator, Tsering Dorje, were detained for trying to independently assess the reaction of affected Tibetans to a World Bank proposal to move Han Chinese and Hui Muslims into a traditionally Tibetan-Mongolian area. Both foreigners were deported. Tsering Dorje was allowed to return to his studies. However, Chinese officials denied permission for the World Bank inspection panel to visit him. That same month, Tashi Tsering, who lowered the Chinese flag in Potala Square during the National Minority Games, was brutally beaten as he was being detained. His whereabouts and physical condition are still unknown. An orphanage where he had done some construction work has been shut and family members and orphanage staff have been detained.
In October 1999, hundreds of people (some reports said as many as 3,000) in Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, protested the arrests of Sonam Phuntsog, a prominent scholar and teacher seemingly loyal to the Dalai Lama, and two other monks, Agyal Tsering and Sonam Choephel. There were reports that some eighty people were detained after troops fired into the air to disperse the crowd, but that many, if not most, have since been released. Strong security measures have been put in place at the monastery.
In January 2000, the Dalai Lama rejected as unauthentic the two-year-old child ordained as the reincarnation of Reting Rinpoche. The government, in defending its action, insisted that "any installation not ratified by the central government is considered illegal." The issue is important in that Reting Rinpoche could become regent after the death of the present Dalai Lama and while the new Dalai Lama is a minor. The chairman of the Tibet government has said the child will receive a "patriotic" education under the guidance of the state, and government religious functionaries will make certain the child "loves the Communist Party of China, the socialist country and Tibetan Buddhism." The ordination followed the flight to India of the fourteen-year-old Karmapa, head of one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism and the most significant Buddhist figure remaining in China. Although recognized by the Dalai Lama, the Chinese leadership thought the Karmapa loyal to the regime and a check on those who oppose it. Tsurphu monastery, where he resided, was secured as soon as his flight became known and several monks reportedly were detained. All Voice of Tibet broadcasts experienced severe jamming. It is believed Chinese authorities, who accused the Dalai Lama of complicity in the youth's escape, are negotiating for his return from India.
Of some 600 Tibetan political prisoners, 80 percent are monks or nuns. One-tenth of the 600 are serving sentences of ten or more years. There have been numerous reports of torture; the consequences of only a few are known. A monk, Legshe Tsoglam, died in April 1999, several days after his release from Gutsa Detention Center. He had been detained for resisting reeducation.
Throughout the year, authorities in Xinjiang reacted with draconian measures to an alleged terrorist campaign by "splittist" elements. The pace of executions increased, as did public sentencing rallies, and lengthy prison terms for suspected splittists. Courts in Aksu prefecture, the No. 4 Production and Construction Brigade, the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, Urumqi, and Nonshishi, are known to have handed down sentences ranging between a year's incarceration and the death penalty. In many cases, those charged had no access to counsel, nor were family members notified of the proceedings. The government, certain that mosques and religious schools harbored dissidents, tightened control of the institutions' leadership, curricula, and teaching materials. During a campaign begun toward the end of 1999, six imams from Hotan city and Karakash county were detained, in part for non-compliance with religious regulations and for failing to teach government policy at religious meetings.
In January, in Urumqi city, Xinjiang's capital, Rebiya Kadeer, a prominent and much loved Uighur businesswoman best known for her work in fostering development in Xinjiang and for her 1000 Families Mothers Project, which helped Uighur women to develop their own businesses, was still awaiting trial for sending information overseas. This despite the fact that on December 3, the Urumqi City Intermediate Court informed her lawyers that the case had been returned to the procuracy for lack of evidence. However, two others detained with her on August 11, 1999, her son, Ablikim Abdyirim, and her secretary, Kahriman Abdukirim, were sent to Wulabai Reeducation Through Labor School on November 20 to serve two- and three-year terms respectively. The charges against them have not been reported. Kadeer's work had been supported by the government until members of her family migrated to the U.S. to join her husband, Sidik Rouzi, a political dissident who regularly broadcasts on Radio Free Asia. Family members have consistently maintained, as did Ms. Kadeer before her arrest, that she was never involved in dissident activity.