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Human Rights Issues in China

Article 34 of China’s constitution states that the “state respects and guarantees human rights” and that “every citizen is entitled to the rights and at the same time must perform the duties prescribed by the constitution and the law.” The following article guarantees “freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” Compared to the earlier years of stringent rule by the Maoist regime, China’s citizens enjoy a much wider range of human rights and basic exercise of their constitutional freedoms. Although tightly regulated, the mass media are relatively more freewheeling than in the past. Economic reforms have brought a new measure of individual expression and great wealth and influence for some.

Police reports from China indicate that the number and size of public protests have multiplied rapidly since the early 1990s and that such protests are now counted in the tens of thousands. For example, police recorded 32,000 protests in 1999 alone. According to later official statistics, however, “public order disturbances” were much lower, reportedly only 87 during 2005, a 6.6 percent increase from 2004. However, the Ministry of Public Security claimed that incidents described as mob violence also rose by 13 percent over 2004, and the number of demonstrations continued to grow as protesters became more organized during the year.

However, citizens cannot express opposition to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-led political system and do not have the right to change their national leaders or form of government. Socialism is still the theoretical basis of national politics and although Marxist economic planning gave way to pragmatism, economic decentralization has merely increased the authority of local officials. The party’s authority rests primarily on the government’s ability to maintain social stability through appeals to nationalism and patriotism; party control of personnel, media, and the security apparatus; and continued improvement of living standards.

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, in practice the government and the CCP, at both the central and local levels, frequently intercede in the judicial process and direct verdicts in many high-profile cases. While the number of religious believers in China continues to increase, governmental respect for religious freedom has remained poor. The government, which regulates, manages, and controls the broadcast media, has censored foreign broadcasts, at times jamming radio signals from abroad. In 2003 some publications were closed and otherwise disciplined for publishing material deemed objectionable by the government, and journalists, authors, academics, and researchers were reportedly harassed, detained, and arrested by the authorities.

Under party guidance, civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the security forces, but according to data provided by the U.S. Department of State, security personnel are responsible for numerous human rights abuses. Despite the growing number of protests that have occurred in China and continued legal reforms, in 2003 arrests continually took place of individuals discussing sensitive subjects on the Internet and of health activists, labor protesters, defense lawyers, journalists, underground church members, and others seeking to take advantage of the government-fostered reforms. Abuses of the judicial system included instances of extrajudicial killings, torture and mistreatment of prisoners, forced confessions, arbitrary arrest and detention, lengthy incommunicado detention, and denial of due process.

In the same year, more than 250,000 persons were incarcerated in “reeducation-through-labor” camps under sentences not subject to judicial review. Moreover, some 500 to 600 individuals were serving out sentences for the now-repealed crime of counterrevolution, and an estimated 2,000 persons remained in prison in 2003 for their activities during the June 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations, which were violently suppressed by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). China has active human rights dialogues with numerous countries, including Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as with the European Union.

The U.S. Department of State also reported several positive human rights developments during 2005. The government returned authority to approve death sentences to the Supreme People’s Court, supported local experiments to record police interrogation of suspects, and limited the administrative detention of minors, the elderly, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. In March 2005, government officials stated that family bible studies in private homes need not be registered with the government and permitted the religious education of minors. However, problems continued in both areas.

The National People’s Congress adopted amendments to the law protecting woman’s rights and interests, including one outlawing sexual harassment. The government ratified International Labour Organization Convention 111 prohibiting discrimination in employment and also hosted visits by international human rights monitors.

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