President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
In November 2005, before your visit to China, we urged that you raise China’s grim human rights record during all your meetings and public appearances. With the further deterioration of human rights there, we ask that the issue be a priority during your meeting with President Hu Jintao on April 20 in Washington, and that all your public statements reflect your concerns. We recognize that your administration has many urgent issues to discuss with President Hu and his team. Nevertheless, we ask that all U.S. officials involved reiterate their expectations that China will abide by its commitments as it agreed to when it ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 2001, and signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1998.
We call your attention to the entry on China in the Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005, released in March 2006. The introduction states: “The [Chinese] government’s human rights record remained poor, and the government continued to commit numerous and serious abuses.” Human Rights Watch concurs with that assessment. We ask that you pay particular attention to:
- increased restrictions on free expression;
- torture of detainees and a justice system that does not respect the due process rights of criminal suspects;
- restrictions on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and to act on those beliefs;
- harassment and arrest of HIV/AIDS activists;
- abuse of petitioners seeking remedies for official misconduct; and
- absence of progress in holding national elections.
During the past year, Chinese authorities have intensified efforts to restrict communication within China, and between Chinese citizens and the rest of the world.
Two issues are of particular concern: the prosecution of individuals for alleged state security and state secrets crimes, and the complicity of U.S. companies in the Chinese government’s efforts to censor information on the Internet.
The vaguely defined crimes of subversion, endangering state security, leaking state secrets, and endangering public order enable Chinese authorities to arbitrarily detain, indict, try, and sentence opinion-makers, journalists, bloggers, activists, and dissidents. Those proceedings are often conducted in secret. Often the so-called crimes involve criticisms of government or Communist Party policy or dissemination of opinion and news that authorities want kept from the public.
The State Department has created a Global Internet Freedom Task Force (GIFT), and Congress has shown its concern by introducing H.R.4780, which seeks “to promote freedom of expression on the Internet, to protect United States business from coercion to participate in repression by authoritarian foreign governments, and for other purposes.” The bill is now in committee. We believe that these initiatives have the potential to ensure that the Internet and U.S. technology companies can be positive agents for promoting openness and democratic reform in countries such as China.
We urge that you call on President Hu to:
- stop requiring Internet companies operating in China, among them Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft, to act as censors or to identify users so that Chinese authorities can prosecute them for engaging in political speech;
- bring criminal, national security and public order laws, and the State Secrets Law into conformity with international standards, such as the Johannesburg Principles, so as to ensure that peaceful expression of political and other opinions that run contrary to official views are protected;
- amend the State Security Law so as to narrow its scope; stop using it to imprison journalists, editors, and Internet users for their opinions; and immediately release those now held under such laws in violation of their basic rights; and
- immediately and unconditionally release Shi Tao, who was sentenced to ten years for “leaking state secrets abroad.” Yahoo! provided information to Chinese authorities that helped identify or confirm that it was he who divulged information about government press restrictions in China.
We ask also that you:
- indicate your support for the principles articulated in H.R. 4780.
Torture and the justice system
China ratified the Convention Against Torture in October 1988 and has introduced steps to eliminate the use of torture and to protect the rights of detainees, prisoners, and petitioners. However, torture and other mistreatment remain a serious problem in China. Local government and security officials often ignore prohibitions against forced confessions in an effort to quickly resolve cases. In his March 10, 2006 report, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture articulated an extensive list of recommendations to the Chinese government.
We ask that you urge President Hu to publicly endorse the Special Rapporteur’s proposals, particularly the need to:
- bring China’s definition of torture in accord with Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture;
- establish an independent complaints mechanism for detainees;
- reform applicable laws to establish the right to remain silent, to protect against self-incrimination, and to ensure the presence of counsel from the time a suspect is apprehended;
- eliminate rewards for police officers who obtain forced confessions; and
- prosecute public officials who collude in permitting or ignoring torture.
In addition, we ask that you urge President Hu to add his voice to those within China attempting to eliminate all forms of administrative detention and sentencing including “re-education through labor.” The system permits the government to detain millions of Chinese citizens without trial or recourse to judicial review.
We urge that you call on President Hu to:
- publicly commit to eliminating administrative detention and sentencing; and
- publicly oppose proposed limited reforms to administrative detention as their partial nature ultimately legitimizes a dual system of justice.
The “Regulations on Religious Affairs,” which became effective on March 1, 2005, further restrict the right to freedom of religion in China. They impose stricter qualifications for religious leaders and stricter administrative supervision of sites for religious activities. In recent months, Human Rights Watch has noted several trends, including the proposed extension of state control over religion to previously unregulated belief systems such as popular or “folk” religion, crackdowns on large-scale gatherings of “underground” Catholics and evangelical Protestants, and intimidation of religious leaders aimed at forcing them to publicly affiliate with officially sanctioned religious organizations.
Although the Chinese government has publicly claimed that it does not restrict religious education of minors, such restrictions (whether in law or in practice) remain in force in some areas. In addition, the government’s claim that family groups may meet for Bible study and prayer without registering is curtailed by, among other things, the size of the group and a requirement that it meet only irregularly. The Chinese government still uses its policy of distinguishing between a religion and a “cult” not to regulate the practice or manifestations of a particular faith, but rather to control people’s right to hold a particular belief. All governments have the right to set out in law reasonable and legitimate limitations on religious activity that have a narrowly defined public interest aim, such as public order or the protection of the rights of others. However, the Chinese government’s policy of deeming a chosen few faiths as legitimate belief and others as superstitions penalizes thousands for simply holding a belief not sanctioned by the Chinese state.
The Chinese government views religion as fostering ethnic identity and separatist tendencies among Uighurs and Tibetans, and strictly controls religious expression and cultural markers in Xinjiang and Tibet. In July 2005, the chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region implied that Chinese officials intend to control the selection of the next Dalai Lama. In addition, the March 2005 regulations give the Chinese government - not the Dalai Lama - the authority to select living Buddhas. Ten years ago the Chinese government expropriated from Tibetans the right to select the Panchen Lama, and took the young Panchen Lama chosen by the Dalai Lama and his family into custody; their whereabouts remain unknown. In 2005, the government claimed that the Panchen Lama was “the highest ranking figure in Tibetan Buddhism,” an accreditation never before been given to anyone except the Dalai Lama.
We urge that you call upon President Hu to:
- abolish official registration of religious organizations and sites because it infringes upon religious freedom;
- advocate passage of State Council directives that will ensure that small families can conduct religious study and worship without registration, and that children may undertake religious education; ensure that the government monitors compliance with these directives;
- remove all references to “sects” and “evil religious organizations” from the criminal code and rescind all applicable explanations, interpretations, and decisions that use these designations; and
- as an immediate step, allow access by members of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child to the Panchen Lama designated by the Dalai Lama.
Two decades after the first case of HIV/AIDS was diagnosed in China, the country faces what could become the largest AIDS epidemic in the world. In recent years, senior Chinese officials have shown growing awareness about the need to confront the epidemic. Spending on HIV/AIDS programs has increased dramatically as have the number of projects undertaken in association with international agencies. But many of the problems identified by Human Rights Watch remain, among them discrimination against those living with HIV/AIDS and those marginalized populations at high risk of infection; lack of access to HIV prevention information and antiviral drugs; harassment and arbitrary detention of HIV/AIDS activists such as Hu Jia, released on March 28, 2006 after forty-one days in detention; and restrictions on the rights of civil society groups organizing to fight the epidemic. These government actions limit dissemination of HIV/AIDS education and treatment, curtail support for those living with the disease, and reduce long-term care for children orphaned by the disease – in effect, hindering efforts to control the epidemic.
We urge that you press President Hu to:
- revise national regulations to remove restrictions that limit the registration and growth of non-governmental HIV/AIDS organizations;
- invite grass-roots HIV/AIDS organizations to share their input on policy and legal reform and to monitor implementation of government aid programs;
- cease detaining AIDS activists for protesting, or for advocating for access to treatment and care;
- ensure that China’s regulations guaranteeing free confidential HIV testing and anti-retroviral drugs to rural and low-income urban HIV-positive individuals, as well as to pregnant women, is fulfilled, and that discrimination in the right to health care, employment, marriage and education for HIV-positive individuals is punished; and
- ensure that everyone, including those most marginalized, enjoys access to accurate information about HIV/AIDS and has equal access to HIV/AIDS programs.
The failure of China’s judicial system to redress grievances such as forced evictions, police brutality, and corruption, has forced hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens to resort to a long-established state system that allows for direct petitioning of high-ranking officials. However, in the vast majority of cases, weaknesses in the petitioning system have failed to provide an adequate remedy. Instead, security forces often subject petitioners to abuse, followed by arbitrary detention, administrative sentencing, and imprisonment.
We ask that you urge President Hu to:
- immediately release all petitioners detained in retaliation for exercising their legal right to petition;
- end intimidation, arbitrary arrest and violence against petitioners; and
- adopt criminal and administrative measures to punish officials and security personnel who mistreat petitioners.
We wrote before your November 2005 trip to China to ask that you raise the subject of national elections with President Hu. We drew your attention to the Chinese government’s October 2005 white paper, Building of Political Democracy in China, which made clear that China will remain a one-party state. This is incompatible with the right of citizens to participate in the conduct of public affairs, which China recognized in signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
We urge that you:
- inquire of President Hu his objection to national elections;
- impress upon him that international law guarantees the right and opportunity of every citizen to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections by universal and equal suffrage; and
- ask that he set a timetable for national elections.
We draw your attention to two final points. The first is that you urge President Hu that the Chinese government should not use the “war on terrorism” to target Uighurs who peacefully exercise their rights to assembly, association and expression, including support for independence or for full autonomy, which China’s autonomy law in principle permits.
We urge also that while welcoming release of political and religious prisoners, you reiterate that such releases do nothing to remedy China’s human rights violations. Instead, all political and religious prisoners imprisoned for peaceful activities should be released immediately and unconditionally and further arrests on such grounds should cease. We urge further that resumption of the U.S.-China human rights dialogue await a commitment to implement such a policy.
We appreciate your attention to these matters.
Asia Division, Human Rights Watch