U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - China
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - China, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa7918.html [accessed 26 December 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This 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.|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
CHINAThe 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 the freedom to express peacefully 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. 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 greatly improved 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. The security apparatus is comprised 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 rapidly. Economic reforms are raising living standards for many, providing greater independence for entrepreneurs, diminishing state control over the economy and people's daily lives, and creating new economic opportunities. Despite economic difficulties in the state sector, individual economic opportunities continue to expand rapidly in nonstate sectors, resulting in increased freedom of employment and mobility. The Government continues to adopt market-based policies and both state-owned and nonstate enterprises are benefiting from freedom to compete in domestic and overseas markets. As economic opportunities grow the number of citizens living in absolute poverty continues to decline; estimates range from official figures of 58million to estimates as high as 350 million. China faces growing problems, including state enterprise reform, unemployment, underemployment, and regional economic disparities. According to estimates, rural unemployment and underemployment range from 30 to 50percent. During the year, the definition of employment was changed to working 5 or more hours per week from working 20hours per week. Tens of millions of peasants have left their homes in search of better jobs and living conditions. According to estimates, as many as 100 million people make up this "floating population," with many major cities counting 1 million or more such people. Urban areas are also coping with millions of state workers idled on partial wages or unemployed as a result of industrial reforms. Workers in Liaoning, Sichuan, Jiangsu, and other provinces increasingly organized public protests to press their demands. There were positive steps in human rights, although serious problems remained. The Government continued to commit widespread and well-documented human rights abuses, in violation of internationally accepted norms stemming from the authorities? very limited tolerance of public dissent, 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 they are often ignored in practice. Abuses included torture and mistreatment of prisoners, forced confessions, and arbitrary arrest and lengthy incommunicado detention. Prison conditions at many facilities remained harsh. The Government continued tight restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, religion, privacy, and worker rights. Discrimination against women, minorities, and the disabled, violence against women, prostitution, trafficking in women and children, and the abuse of children remain problems. The Government continued to restrict tightly worker rights. Serious human rights abuses persisted in minority areas, including Tibet and Xinjiang, where tight controls on religion and other fundamental freedoms continued and, in some cases, intensified. In 1997 the Government took several positive actions to address international concerns in the area of human rights. In October the Government signed the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and allowed the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to visit China. The Government also significantly expanded its dialog on human rights with a number of foreign interlocutors. The Government?s response to dissent was also somewhat more tolerant than in recent years. Although authorities continued to use repressive measures such as intimidation, administrative detention, imposition of prison terms, house arrest or exile to control tightly dissent, the Government exhibited some limited tolerance of public expressions of opposition to government policies and calls for political reform. During the year, a number of dissidents, academics, and former officials issued public statements, letters or petitions challenging the Government?s policies or advocating political reform. Some, including Fang Jue, Shang Dewen, and Lin Mu had no action taken against them. Others, including Bao Ge, Qin Yongmin, and Shen Liangqing were harassed, arrested or rearrested, left the country under pressure, or were subjected to stricter forms of house arrest, as in the past. China also released a few political prisoners on medical parole or before their terms were over. Prominent dissident and democracy activist Wei Jingsheng was released from prison in November on medical parole and allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment. Journalists Xi Yang and Zhao Lei, and labor activists Tang Yuanjuan, Li Wei, and Zhou Guoqiang also were released before the end of their prison terms. However, thousands of others, including Wang Dan, Liu Nianchun, Gao Yu, Pastor Xu Yongze, Bishop Zeng Jingmu, Chadrel Rinpoche, and Ngawang Choephel remained in prison for the peaceful expression of their political, social or religious views and/or counterrevolutionary offenses despite official denials that China holds political prisoners. Some of those who completed their sentences and were released from prison were kept under tight surveillance and prevented from taking employment or otherwise resuming a normal life. Others were released from prison at the completion of their sentences and subsequently allowed to leave China, including Tong Yi and Zhang Lin. China made progress in legal reform efforts in 1997. The judicial system continues to deny defendants basic legal safeguards and due process because authorities attach higher priority to maintaining public order and suppressing political opposition than to implementing and enforcing legal norms. The Government, however, continued to take positive steps to strengthen its legal system by enacting and implementing new legislation. Legislation passed in recent years includes laws with a potential impact on citizens? rights--e.g., the Administrative Procedure Law, Lawyers Law, State Compensation Law, Prison Law, and Criminal Law--if they are enforced effectively. The Government has initiated efforts to educate lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and the public on the provisions of the new laws. China also has expanded its efforts to increase bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the field of law. For example, President Jiang agreed to increase such cooperation in October. The revised Criminal Procedure Law, which came into effect on January 1, 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, the law would bring China?s criminal law closer toward compliance with international norms. Nonapproved religious groups, including Protestant and Catholic groups, experienced varying degrees of official interference and repression as the Government continued to enforce 1994 State Council regulations requiring all religious organizations to register with the Government and come under the supervision of official, "patriotic" religious organizations. There was evidence that authorities in some areas, guided by national policy, made strong efforts to control the activities of unapproved Catholic and Protestant churches, and some church leaders or adherents were arrested or remained in detention or prison because of their religious activities. In other regions, registered and unregistered churches are treated similarly by the authorities and congregants worship in both types of churches. Despite this pressure, the number of religious adherents in many churches, both registered and unregistered, continued to grow at a rapid pace. Citizens worshipping in officially sanctioned churches, mosques, and temples reported little or no day-to-day interference by the Government. The Government estimates that China has 4 million registered Catholics, 10 to 15 million registered Protestants, and 18million Moslems. They worship in some 12,000 churches and 30,000 mosques. Nongovernmental estimates indicate that as many as 30million Christians worship privately in house churches that are not registered with the Government. The Government released a white paper on religion in October, which defended government practices and stated that citizens? rights should conform to international conventions. Chinese society continued to become more open and to diversify at a rapid pace. New social groups with economic resources at their disposal have arisen and started to play a role in community life. Although citizens still do not have the right to change their national leaders or form of government, several hundred million Chinese have participated in the Government?s village elections program, which allowed basic democratic expression in multicandidate elections for nongovernmental local village committees. Satellite television broadcasts are 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. Increasing numbers of citizens have access to the Internet although the Government continued efforts to control the content of material available on the Internet. Average citizens go about their daily lives with more personal freedom than ever before. They also continued to enjoy a 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, those Chinese who seek to express openly dissenting political and religious views still live in an environment filled with repression.