Last Updated: Monday, 28 July 2014, 16:37 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - China

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 26 February 1999
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - China, 26 February 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa602c.html [accessed 28 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
The People's Republic of China (PRC) is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the paramount source of power. At the national and regional levels, party members hold almost all top government, police, and military positions. Ultimate authority rests with members of the Politburo. Leaders stress the need to maintain stability and social order and are committed to perpetuating the rule of the CCP and its hierarchy. Citizens lack both the freedom peacefully to express opposition to the party-led political system and the right to change their national leaders or form of government. Socialism continues to provide the theoretical underpinning of Chinese politics, but Marxist ideology has given way to economic pragmatism in recent years, and economic decentralization has increased the authority of regional officials. The party's authority rests primarily on the Government's ability to maintain social stability, appeals to nationalism and patriotism, party control of personnel and the security apparatus, and the continued improvement in the living standards of most of China's 1.2 billion citizens. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, in practice, the judicial system is subject to the "policy guidance" of the CCP and government influence, particularly in politically sensitive cases.

The security apparatus is made up of the Ministries of State Security and Public Security, the People's Armed Police, the People's Liberation Army, and the state judicial, procuratorial, and penal systems. Security policy and personnel were responsible for numerous human rights abuses.

China has a mixed economy that continues to expand, albeit at a slower rate than in recent years. The growth rate target was 8.0 percent for 1998. According to official government statistics gross domestic product reached a growth rate of 7.8 percent, but the actual figure was widely considered to be between 3 and 5 percent. The economy faces growing problems, including state enterprise reform, unemployment, underemployment, and regional economic disparities. Rural unemployment and underemployment is estimated to be over 30 percent. Tens of millions of peasants have left their homes in search of better jobs and living conditions. Demographers estimate that between 80 and 130 million persons make up this "floating population," with many major cities counting 1 million or more such persons. Urban areas also are coping with millions of state workers idled on partial wages or unemployed as a result of industrial reforms. Workers throughout the country increasingly organized public protests to press their demands. Nonetheless, economic reforms have raised living standards for many, providing greater independence for entrepreneurs, diminishing state control over the economy and citizen's daily lives, and creating new economic opportunities. Despite serious economic difficulties in the state sector, individual economic opportunities expanded in nonstate sectors, resulting in increased freedom of employment and mobility. The total number of citizens living in absolute poverty continues to decline; estimates range from official figures of 42 million to World Bank estimates of 150 million. However, the income gap between coastal and internal regions is growing markedly. The ratio is now approximately 12 to 1.

The Government's human rights record deteriorated sharply beginning in the final months of the year with a crackdown against organized political dissent. The loosening of restrictions on political debate and activism by authorities for much of 1997 and 1998, including toward public calls for political reform and expressions of opposition to government policies, abruptly ended in the fall. The Government continued to commit widespread and well­documented human rights abuses, in violation of internationally accepted norms. These abuses stemmed from the authorities' very limited tolerance of public dissent aimed at the Government, fear of unrest, and the limited scope or inadequate implementation of laws protecting basic freedoms. The Constitution and laws provide for fundamental human rights, but these protections often are ignored in practice. Abuses included instances of extrajudicial killings, torture and mistreatment of prisoners, forced confessions, arbitrary arrest and detention, lengthy incommunicado detention, and denial of due process. Prison conditions at most facilities remained harsh. In many cases, particularly sensitive political cases, the judicial system denies criminal defendants basic legal safeguards and due process because authorities attach higher priority to maintaining public order and suppressing political opposition than to enforcing legal norms. The Government infringed on citizens' privacy rights. The Government continued restrictions on freedom of speech and of the press, and tightened these toward the end of the year. The Government severely restricted freedom of assembly, and continued to restrict freedom of association, religion, and movement. Discrimination against women, minorities, and the disabled; violence against women, including coercive family planning practices--which sometimes include forced abortion and forced sterilization; prostitution, trafficking in women and children, and the abuse of children all are problems. The Government continued to restrict tightly worker rights,and forced labor remains a problem. Serious human rights abuses persisted in minority areas, including Tibet and Xinjiang, where restrictions on religion and other fundamental freedoms intensified.

Beginning in the fall, Communist Party leaders moved to "nip in the bud" organized challenges they believed threatened national stability or Communist Party authority. Dozens of political activists were arrested for attempts to register a political party and engage in other political activities. In November over 30 members and supporters of the China Democracy Party were detained, and, in December, three of its leaders were sentenced to lengthy jail terms, apparently as a warning to other activists. Veteran dissidents Xu Wenli, Wang Youcai, and Qin Yongmin were tried under the law on state security for their attempts to organize and register the CDP as an opposition party and for allegedly colluding with foreign forces to "subvert state power." They were given harsh sentences of 13, 11, and 12 years, respectively, in closed trials that flagrantly violated due process. Also in November and December, the authorities imposed new regulations on the Internet, the publishing industry, and social organizations; closed several newspapers and fired several outspoken editors; and banned a popular, but politically- sensitive, book and other publications. The China Development Union, an independent group in Beijing, which had organized discussions on a wide range of topical issues, including political reform, had its activities curtailed in November and was eventually shut down.

Unapproved religious groups, including Protestant and Catholic groups, continued to experience varying degrees of official interference and repression. The Government continued to enforce 1994 State Council regulations requiring all places of religious activity to register with the Government and come under the supervision of official, "patriotic" religious organizations. There were significant differences from region to region, and even locality to locality, in the attitudes of government officials toward religion. In some areas, authorities guided by national policy made strong efforts to control the activities of unapproved Catholic and Protestant churches; religious services were broken up and church leaders or adherents were detained and, at times, reportedly beaten. At year's end, some remained in prison because of their religious activities. In other regions, registered and unregistered churches were treated similarly by the authorities. Citizens worshiping in officially sanctioned churches, mosques, and temples reported little or no day-to-day interference by the Government. The number of religious adherents in many churches, both registered and unregistered, continued to grow at a rapid pace. The Government engaged in discussions of religious freedom issues with the international community, welcoming several high­level foreign delegations.

Although the Government denies that it holds political or religious prisoners, and argues that all those in prison are legitimately serving sentences for crimes under the law, an unknown number of persons, estimated at several thousand, are detained in violation of international human rights instruments for peacefully expressing their political, religious, or social views. Persons detained at times during the year include political activists who tried to register an opposition party; leaders of a national house church movement; and organizers of political discussion groups that exceeded what the Government deemed the permissible level of dissent. Some minority groups, particularly Tibetan Buddhists and Muslim Uyghurs, came under increasing pressure as the Government clamped down on dissent and "separatist" activities. In Tibet the reeducation campaign aimed at monks and nuns was renewed, as was a rhetorical campaign against the Dalai Lama. In Xinjiang, authorities tightened restrictions on fundamental freedoms in an effort to control independence groups.

The Government took some actions to address international concerns in the area of human rights. In October it signed the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), but gave no indication when the covenant would be ratified. In September the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) visited for the first time at the invitation of the Government. The Government also continued to expand its human rights dialogs and exchanges with other nations, and in October hosted for the first time an international human rights conference in Beijing.

The authorities released a few political prisoners before their terms were over. Tiananmen student leader Wang Dan was released on medical parole in April on the condition that he leave the country for medical treatment. Liu Nianchun was released under the same conditions in December. Both are now living abroad in exile. Catholic Bishop Zeng Jingmu and democracy activist Pan Mingdong were released on medical parole before the end of their terms and remained in China. Bishop Zeng was reportedly under house arrest at year's end. Zhang Xiaoxu was paroled 6 years early, after having served 9 years of his 15-year sentence for involvement in the 1989 student protests. However, at year's end several thousand others, including Li Hai, Han Chunsheng, Liu Jingsheng, Chen Lantao, Liu Xiaobo, Chen Longde, Pastor Xu Yongze, Bishop An Shuxin, Abbot Chadrel Rinpoche, Ngawang Sangdrol, Jigme Sangpo, and Ngawang Choephel remained in prison for the peaceful expression of their political, social, or religious views. Some of those who completed their sentences and were released from prison--such as Bao Tong, senior aide to former Communist Party leaders--were kept under surveillance and prevented from taking employment or otherwise resuming normal lives.

During the year, the Government launched new efforts to reform the legal system and widely disseminated information about new legislation. It also initiated a highly publicized campaign to "rectify" endemic problems such as corruption and abuse of power on the part of judges, prosecutors, and police. A number of laws passed in recent years, if enforced effectively, hold the potential to enhance citizens' rights--e.g., the Administrative Litigation Law, the Lawyers Law, the State Compensation Law, the Prison Law, the Criminal Law, and the Criminal Procedure Law. The revised Criminal Procedure Law, which came into effect in 1997, provided for the defendant's right to legal counsel, an active legal defense, and other rights of criminal defendants recognized in international human rights instruments. If fully implemented, this law would bring China's criminal laws closer toward compliance with international norms. However, enforcement of the new statute was uneven and incomplete and was violated in the cases of high-profile dissidents. In an effort to strengthen enforcement, the Government issued additional, more specific implementing guidelines. The Government also expanded efforts to educate lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and especially the public on the provisions of new statutes. China expanded its efforts to increase bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the field of law.

In addition, some positive trends continued. The leadership continued governmental restructuring efforts and took steps to create a more accountable and less intrusive government (under the firm leadership of the Communist Party). The range of issues covered in the media--especially regarding corruption and abuse of power--continued to expand. New initiatives were undertaken to improve the transparency and accountability of China's judicial and legal systems; nongovernmental­level village committee elections were expanded, giving citizens choices about grassroots representatives, as well as introducing the principle of democratic elections; and at least one experiment with township elections was conducted successfully (albeit not approved in advance by the central Government). Government efforts to separate the military and the Communist Party from commercial ventures proceeded, as did campaigns against government corruption and smuggling. Social groups with economic resources at their disposal continued to play an increasing role in community life.

Despite the sharp crackdown on political dissent at the end of the year, society as a whole continued to be more open and diverse. Academics and government officials continued to debate formerly taboo subjects such as political reform and democratization in official channels. Satellite television broadcasts continued to be widely available, particularly in coastal provinces, despite the Government's efforts to regulate the sale and use of satellite dishes. Cable television also is available in many cities, including access to global news networks. As many as 6 million citizens had access to the Internet, although the Government increased its efforts to try to control the content of material available on the Internet. Overall, average citizens go about their daily lives with more personal freedom than ever before: Higher disposable income, looser economic controls, greater freedom of movement, increased access to outside sources of information, greater room for individual choice, and more diversity in cultural life. However, authorities did not hesitate to move quickly against those it perceived to be a threat to government power or national stability. Citizens who seek to express openly dissenting political and religious views continue to live in an environment filled with repression.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

The official press reported a number of instances of extrajudicial killings, but no nationwide statistics are available. For example, the media reported that a police officer, who murdered a local official in September, was tried and sentenced to death. The case was cited as part of a nationwide crackdown on police corruption and abuses (see Section 1.c.).

The families of three suspects, who had died while in police custody, wrote to UNHCHR Mary Robinson during her September visit. One of the victims, Zhou Guiyi, was found dead in a Hebei police detention center in April with wounds over most of his body. Another, Xiao Beizhou, died in a hospital in January after being beaten by police with batons, his family said. According to the Tibet Information Network (TIN), 32 Tibetan political prisoners died in detention during the years 1987-1998 (see Tibet addendum).

There continued to be numerous executions carried out after summary trials, although the number of death sentences was significantly less than in 1997. Such trials can occur under circumstances where the lack of due process protections borders on extrajudicial killing (see Section 1.e.). On December 3, according to the Legal Daily, the Xinjiang Higher People's Court sentenced 15 persons to death; the executions reportedly were carried out immediately after the judgments were handed down.

In March the China Youth Daily reported that three prosecutors in Fuzhou had tortured a prisoner with boiling water and beat him to death in 1996 while trying to force him to confess (see Section 1.c.). The prosecutors were tried by a local court and given sentences ranging from 12 to 15 years in prison.

There were a number of bombings and killings of policemen in Xinjiang by Uyghur separatist groups (see Section 5).

b. Disappearance

There were no new reports of disappearances. However, the Government still has not provided a comprehensive, credible accounting of those missing or detained in connection with the suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations. Long incommunicado detentions continued, although there were fewer reports than in 1997 (see Section 1.d.).

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits torture; however, police and other elements of the security apparatus employed torture or degrading treatment in dealing with detainees and prisoners. Former detainees and the press have reported credibly that officials used electric shocks, prolonged periods of solitary confinement, incommunicado detention, beatings, shackles, and other forms of abuse against detained men and women. Prominent dissident Liu Nianchun, who was released in December, reported that guards used an electric stun gun on him. Persons detained pending trial were particularly at risk during pretrial detention due to systemic weaknesses in the legal system or lack of implementation of the revised Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure Law.

In May a Canadian television network broadcast footage shot in October 1997 and April of prisoners being beaten during interrogations at a Shanghai police station. A foreign prisoner in Chinese custody reported in May that he had been beaten and kicked by police. According to a press report, in February a Yunnan court overturned a verdict in which a young farmer had been sentenced to death for murder based upon a false confession extracted by police using torture. The victim said that the police had tied his hands with a wet rope, forced him to kneel, and beat him for 5 hours. Another falsely accused suspect in the case said that he had been given no water during 5 days of interrogation. According to the newspaper article, the torture victims each were compensated approximately $3,000 (24,835.5 rmb). Three prosecutors who tortured and beat a prisoner to death in 1996 were sentenced to prison terms (see Section 1.a.). In March the China Youth Daily reported that three prosecutors in Fuzhou had tortured a prisoner with boiling water and beat him to death in 1996. The three were tried and given sentences ranging from 12 to 15 years in prison (see Section 1.a.). Authorities reportedly tortured and otherwise abused a Roman Catholic priest (see Section 2.c.), an allegation the Government denied. There were reports of instances when the police beat worshipers at house churches (see Section 2.c.); and there were reports that police beat protestors (see Section 2.b.).

The Government has stated that "the Chinese judiciary deals with every complaint of torture promptly after it is filed, and those found guilty are punished according to law." Guangdong provincial authorities said in August that they had investigated and prosecuted 507 Communist party cadres and policemen who had violated the law, including those guilty of offenses such as extorting confession by torture and unlawful detention of suspects. As part of its campaign to address police abuse, the Government for the first time published national torture statistics, along with 99 case studies, in a volume called, "The Law Against Extorting a Confession by Torture." The book, which was published by the Supreme People's Procuratorate, stated that 126 persons had died during police interrogation in 1993 and 115 in 1994. There was also a noticeable increase in the number of torture cases reported in the official media during the year, although most still are believed to go unreported.

Authorities mounted a nationwide crackdown on police corruption and abuses. The Minister of Public Security in Octoberadmitted that some policemen "would never pass the test of power and money" and that they "abuse their authority for personal profit and accept bribes to bend the law." In May the People's Daily reported that 2,000 police officers had been dismissed in Shanxi province since the start of a "rectification" drive in February; however, many police and security officials who are guilty of abuses go unpunished.

Conditions in penal institutions for both political prisoners and common criminals are generally harsh and frequently degrading. According to released political prisoners, it is standard practice for political prisoners to be segregated from each other and placed with common criminals. There are reports that common criminals have beaten political prisoners at the instigation of guards. During a March meeting with the Minister of Justice, one National People's Congress delegate complained of severe overcrowding in her local prison in Guangdong, in which there reportedly was little space for inmates to sit down and two prisoners slept in each bed. China's 1994 Prison Law was designed, in part, to improve treatment of detainees and respect for their legal rights. The Government's stated goal is to convert one-half of the nation's prisons and 150 reeducation-through-labor camps into "modernized, civilized" facilities by the year 2010. According to credible sources, persons held in new "model" prisons receive better treatment than those held in other prison facilities. (For conditions in prisons in Tibet, see the Tibet addendum.)

Adequate, timely medical care for prisoners continues to be a serious problem, despite official assurances that prisoners have the right to prompt medical treatment if they become ill. Nutritional and health conditions can be grim. At year's end, political prisoners who reportedly had difficulties in obtaining medical treatment, despite repeated appeals on their behalf by their families and the international community, included Gao Yu, Chen Lantao, Zhang Shanguang, Chen Longde, Ngawang Sangdrol, and Chadrel Rinpoche. According to one credible report, there have been instances in which women in reeducation-through-labor camps found to be pregnant while serving sentences were forced to submit to abortions (see Section 1.f.).

The Government does not permit independent monitoring of prisons or reeducation-through-labor camps, and prisoners remain largely inaccessible to international human rights organizations. The Government took some steps toward greater transparency in the prison system. Following visits to several Chinese prisons by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 1997, UNHCHR Robinson also inspected prisons in several cities during her September visit. In May ambassadors from three European Union (EU) member states were allowed to visit Drapchi prison in Lhasa during a fact-finding trip to Tibet. In February a group of 20 EU representatives were allowed to visit Daxing prison in Beijing as part of the continuing China-EU human rights dialog. There were unconfirmed reports that prisoners who attempted to communicate with observers subsequently were punished or beaten. There was no progress in talks between China and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on an agreement for ICRC access to Chinese prisons. The Government continued discussions with a prominent foreign businessman and human rights monitor on prisoner accounting and confirmed its intention to continue doing so. The flow of information from the Ministry of Justice to this monitor slowed noticeably in the latter half of the year; by year's end, information had been provided on 50 of the 100 names submitted on lists in 1995.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Arbitrary arrest and detention remain serious problems. There were fewer reports of long incommunicado detentions than in the previous year. Because the Government tightly controls information, it is impossible accurately to determine the total number of persons subjected to new or continued arbitrary arrest or detention. Amnesty International estimates that approximately 250 persons remain in prisons or labor camps for activities related to the 1989 Tiananmen protests alone. According to estimates, thousands remain incarcerated, charged with other criminal offenses, detained but not charged, or sentenced to reeducation through labor. The international press has reported that there are some 230,000 persons in reeducation-through-labor camps, sentenced to up to 3 years through administrative procedures, not a trial. According to a May Hong Kong report, Beijing dissident Wang Wanxing, who staged a protest in Tiananmen Square in 1992, still was being held in a psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of Beijing. Chen Ziming remained under house arrest at year's end.

The amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law, which came into effect in 1997, represented a significant improvement in the statutes governing arrest and detention. The amendments provide for earlier and greater access for defendants to legal counsel and the abolition of a regulation that allowed summary trials in certain cases involving the death penalty. Under the old system, defendants were not allowed to consult an attorney until 7 days before trial, usually precluding the possibility of mounting an effective defense. The amended law gives most suspects the right to seek legal counsel shortly after their initial detention and interrogation. However, political activists still have significant problems obtaining competent legal representation of their own choosing. In December Wang Youcai was forced to defend himself during his trial because authorities prevented travel by his lawyer. Qin Yongmin also was tried without a lawyer because no lawyer would take his case due to his insistence on pleading innocent; his request that his trial be delayed until he could find a lawyer was denied. Although Xu Wenli was able to hire a lawyer, he was able to meet with him only once before his trial began.

While representing an improvement over past practice, anecdotal evidence suggested that implementation of the new Criminal Procedure Law so far remains uneven and far from complete. In some cases, differing interpretations of the law taken by different judicial and police departments have resulted in contradictory and incomplete implementation. The Supreme People's Court, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Justice, and the Legal Work Committee of the National People's Congress in January issued supplementary, implementing regulations to address some of these weaknesses. During the year, the Government intensified its efforts to educate lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and especially the public on the provisions of the new law. The Deputy Procurator-General announced in October that, on an experimental basis, police and prosecutors would show suspects a card outlining their basic legal rights upon detention. Suspects also would be informed of time limits on investigations, appeal regulations, and the legal responsibilities of prosecutors, the report said.

Even if fully implemented, the Criminal Procedure Law still would fall short of international standards in many respects. For example, while the statute precludes a presumption of guilt it includes no explicit recognition of the presumption of innocence; has insufficient safeguards against use of evidence gathered through illegal means such as torture; the appeals process fails to provide sufficient avenue for review; and there are inadequate remedies for violations of defendants' rights. However, the law did abolish an often criticized form of pretrial detention known as "shelter and investigation" that allowed police to detain suspects for extended periods without charge. Nonetheless, in some cases, police unilaterally still can detain a person for up to 37 days before releasing him or formally placing him under arrest. Once a suspect is arrested, the revised law allows police and prosecutors to detain him for months before trial while a case is being "further investigated." Few suspects are released on bail or put in another form of noncustodial detention pending trial. In March poet Chen Dongdong was released after 10 months in police custody. In October a Qingdao court sentenced Shandong dissident Chen Zengxiang to 7 years in prison after he had spent nearly 5 months in a detention center. Chen was convicted at a closed trial of divulging state secrets, during which he was not allowed to be represented by a lawyer.

During the year, as dissidents around the country stepped up their activities, there were more frequent reports of temporary detentions. These incidents ranged from dissidents being questioned by police for a few hours to activists being held for days or weeks especially during politically sensitive periods. Authorities also detained journalists (see Section 2.a.), leaders of unauthorized religious groups and worshipers in house churches (see Section 2.c.), and the relatives of dissidents (see Section 2.a.).

During the March plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC), Shenzhen resident Miao Xike tried to set up a sign on Tiananmen Square and shout slogans urging greater respect for human rights. He was detained for more than 2 weeks. Numerous activists throughout the country were warned to stay at home during the June 4 anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Liu Lianjun reportedly was detained for 7 days around the time of the anniversary. Prominent dissidents such as Jiang Qisheng, Ding Zilin, Chu Hailan (the wife of jailed labor activist Liu Nianchun), and Ren Wanding were detained for brief periods or had their activities curtailed on more than one occasion. In July more than 20 dissidents who had tried to register an opposition party in Zhejiang were detained. Wang Youcai, who was later arrested in November, was detained for more than 50 days, but others were held for brief periods. Following a similar pattern, numerous dissidents were detained and then released at the time of UNHCHR Robinson's September visit. Authorities continued the practice of inviting dissidents to take "vacations" at sensitive times during the year. Jiang Qisheng and Wei Xiaotao, the brother of Wei Jingsheng, were forced to spend several days each in Public Security Bureau guest houses in the Beijing suburbs during UNHCHR Robinson's visit.

Under the revised Criminal Procedure Law, detained criminal suspects, defendants, their legal representatives, and close relatives are entitled to apply for a guarantor to enable the suspect or defendant to await trial out of custody. In practice, the police, who have sole discretion, usually do not agree. The law also stipulates that authorities must notify a detainee's family or work unit of his detention within 24 hours. In practice, however, timely notification remains a serious problem especially in sensitive political cases. Authorities did not respond to the attempts of the wife of dissident Xu Wenli to determine where Xu was held after his detention or what the charges were against him. Under a sweeping exception, officials need not provide notification if it would "hinder the investigation" of a case. During his 5 months of detention, Chen Zengxiang's family was never notified formally of his detention. In July Wang Youcai, Lin Hui, Wang Donghai, and several other Zhejiang dissidents were detained for various lengths of time without notification of their families.

In theory, the Administrative Litigation Law of 1989 permits a detainee to challenge the legality of administrative detention, but lack of timely access to legal counsel inhibited the effective use of this law. Persons serving sentences in the criminal justice system can request release under Article 75 of the Criminal Procedure Law or appeal to the Procuratorate, but have no recourse to the courts to challenge the legality or length of criminal detention. In June the official Xinhua News Agency reported that Beijing prosecutors had found that 143 criminal suspects in the city had been detained illegally for more than 1 year. The procuratorate reportedly ordered 141 of these persons released. There are documented cases in which local officials and business leaders illegally conspired to use detention as a means of exerting pressure in commercial disputes involving Chinese and foreign businessmen. There were also cases in which foreign businessmen had their passports confiscated during such disputes.

The State Compensation Law provides a legal basis for citizens to recover damages for illegal detentions. Although many citizens remain unaware of this 1995 law, there is evidence that it is having growing, if still limited, impact. The Guangzhou City Intermediate Court awarded $1,150 (9,520.4 rmb)in compensation to Ruan Wenjian, who had been held illegally for a year by police for suspicion in a fraud case. The case was reported widely in the Guangzhou media. The press reported in 1997 a case in Yongshan township, Jiangxi province, in which a 15-year-old girl and her mother took local authorities to court for forcing the girl to undergo a pregnancy test. Citing the girl's "psychological and economic losses," the court ordered the local government to make a formal apology to the girl and pay her $323 (2,674 rmb) in compensation. Not satisfied with the judgment, the girl's family said that it would file an appeal to seek higher compensation. During the year, the official press ran numerous articles to raise public awareness of recent laws meant to enhance the protection of citizens' rights, including the Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure Law, State Compensation Law, Administrative Procedure Law, and Lawyers Law.

A major flaw of the new Criminal Procedure Law is that it does not address the reeducation-through-labor system, which permits authorities to sentence detainees administratively without trial to terms of 1 to 3 years in labor camps. Local Labor Reeducation Committees, which determine the term of detention, may extend an inmate's sentence for an additional year. There have been cases of individuals successfully appealing their reeducation sentences through the courts, though the exact number of successful cases is unknown. Shanghai activist Wang Tingjin was sentenced to 2 years of reeducation, apparently for meeting with foreign-based dissident Wang Bingzhang during the latter's trip to China in February. In April Anhui dissident Shen Liangqing and Shanghai activist Yang Qinheng were sentenced to 2 years and 3 years of reeducation, respectively, for conducting a series of protests and activities, including making public statements that NPC Chairman Li Peng had "blood on his hands" for his part in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. On December 29, exiled dissidents who had returned illegally to China and engaged in political activities were sentenced to 3 years reeducation through labor on charges that they had visited prostitutes. According to credible reports, these charges were falsified by the authorities. Chen Longde, Liu Xiaobo, and other dissidents remained in labor camps.

The Government also continued to refuse reentry into China by citizens who were dissidents and activists (see Section 2.d.). The Government's denial of permission to some former reeducation-through-labor camp inmates to return to their homes constitutes a form of internal exile (see Section 2.d.).

There were no reports that the Government forcibly exiled citizens; however, Wang Dan and Liu Nianchun were released from prison on medical parole only on the condition that they leave the country for medical treatment (see Section 2.d.).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution states that the courts shall, in accordance with the law, exercise judicial power independently; however, in practice, the judiciary is subject to policy guidance from both the Government and the Communist Party, whose leaders use a variety of means to direct courts on verdicts and sentences in politically sensitive cases. Corruption and conflicts of interest also affect judicial decisionmaking. Judges are appointed by the people's congresses at the corresponding level of the judicial structure, which can result in undue influence by local politicians over the judges they appoint. During a May conference at Beijing University, according to informed sources, it was estimated that more than 70 percent of commercial cases in lower courts were decided according to the wishes of local officials rather than the law. State-run media ran numerous articles calling for an end to such "local protectionism" and the development of a judiciary independent of interference by officials.

The Supreme People's Court (SPC) stands at the apex of the court system, followed in descending order by the higher, intermediate, and basic people's courts. There are special courts for handling military, maritime, and railway transport cases.

During the year, the Government initiated a highly publicized campaign to fix systemic weaknesses in the judicial system and make it more accountable to public scrutiny. The law requires that all trials be held in public, but in practice, many trials are not. In June the Beijing Number 1 Intermediate Court became the first Chinese court to open its trials to the public on an experimental basis, except for those involving state secrets, personal privacy, or minors, as prescribed by law. The exception for cases involving state secrets has been used to keep proceedings closed to the public and even family members in some sensitive cases.

In June the President of the Supreme People's Court, Xiao Yang, called for courts to come under the "supervision" of citizens and the media, and on July 11 state-run television carried the first live broadcast of a trial, a case involving intellectual property. National newspapers gave both events extensive coverage, and numerous editorials highlighted the merits of public trials, including their value as a tool to prevent "lopsided adjudication, lax enforcement of necessary judicial procedures, and prejudicial judgments against the accused." The Government announced in November that all Beijing courts, not just the Number 1 Intermediate Court, would henceforth be open to the public. However, cases involving state secrets, privacy, and minors are excepted. None of the trials of high-profile political activists that took place at the end of the year was open, although family members usually were allowed to attend.

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