2015 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - China
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||13 April 2016|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, 2015 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - China, 13 April 2016, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/57161285c.html [accessed 16 December 2017]|
|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.|
The People's Republic of China (PRC) is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the paramount authority. CCP members hold almost all top government and security apparatus positions. Ultimate authority rests with the 25-member Political Bureau (Politburo) of the CCP and its seven-member Standing Committee. Xi Jinping held the three most powerful positions as CCP general secretary, state president, and chairman of the Central Military Commission. Civilian authorities maintained control of the military and internal security forces.
Repression and coercion markedly increased during the year against organizations and individuals involved in civil and political rights advocacy and public interest and ethnic minority issues. The crackdown on the legal community was particularly severe, as individual lawyers and law firms that handled cases the government deemed "sensitive" were targeted for harassment and detention, with hundreds of lawyers and law associates interrogated, investigated, and in many cases detained in secret locations for months without charges or access to attorneys or family members. Officials continued to harass, intimidate, and prosecute family members and associates to retaliate against rights advocates and defenders. Individuals and groups regarded as politically sensitive by authorities faced tight restrictions on their freedom to assemble, practice religion, and travel. Authorities resorted to extralegal measures, such as enforced disappearance and strict house arrest, including house arrest of family members, to prevent public expression of critical opinions. Five men working in Hong Kong's publishing industry disappeared between October and December from Thailand, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen; it was believed that PRC security officials were responsible for their disappearances. Authorities continued to censor and tightly control public discourse on the internet and in print and other media. There was severe official repression of the freedoms of speech, religion, association, and assembly of Uighurs in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and of Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas. These minorities continued to face severe restrictions on movement. Officials also approved expedited judicial procedures and in some cases mass trials for Uighur terrorism suspects in the XUAR. Rights abuses in minority areas peaked around high-profile events, such as the visit of foreign officials, national meetings, commemorations, and high-profile trials.
As in previous years, citizens did not have the right to change their government and had limited forms of redress against official abuse. Other human rights abuses during the year included alleged extrajudicial killings; executions without due process; prolonged illegal detentions at unofficial holding facilities known as "black jails"; torture and coerced confessions of prisoners; detention and harassment of lawyers who took on "sensitive" cases, journalists, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others whose actions the authorities deemed unacceptable ; lack of due process in judicial proceedings; political control of courts and judges; closed trials; the use of administrative detention; failure to protect refugees and asylum seekers; extrajudicial disappearances of Chinese and foreign citizens; restrictions on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); discrimination against women, minorities, and persons with disabilities; a coercive birth-limitation policy that, despite the lifting of one-child-per-family restrictions, in some cases resulted in forced abortion (sometimes at advanced stages of pregnancy); and trafficking in persons.
Authorities prosecuted a number of abuses of power through the court system, particularly with regard to corruption, but in most cases the CCP first investigated and punished officials using opaque and selectively applied internal party disciplinary procedures. Citizens who promoted independent efforts to combat abuses of power were sometimes targeted by authorities.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
During the year security forces reportedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In many instances few or no details were available.
It was not clear to what extent police impunity was a problem. Often following cases of killings by police, authorities announced an investigation would be conducted. It remained unclear, however, whether any investigations resulted in findings of police malfeasance or disciplinary action.
In May police shot and killed Xu Chunhe at a train station in Heilongjiang Province after Xu gained control of an officer's baton. Xu had previously travelled to Beijing to petition for better living conditions. The incident prompted widespread debate about the use of deadly force by police. The government attempted to quiet criticism by releasing online a highly redacted video of the incident. A subsequent investigation cleared the officer of any wrongdoing.
In July Tibetan reincarnate lama Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died in prison at age 54 (see the Tibet annex for further information).
A number of violent incidents in the XUAR resulted in multiple deaths. For example, in February the media reported that security forces killed at least 17 persons near the town of Yaqaeriq after a police search of a house turned violent. In June the media reported that between 18 and 28 persons were killed during a knife and bomb attack at a police checkpoint in the city of Kashgar. In September there was an alleged terrorist attack in a coal mine in Aksu that reportedly resulted in the death of approximately 50 persons. In response to the attack, authorities in November conducted an operation against those they said were responsible for the September incident. According to media reports, security forces raided a cave where the alleged terrorists had taken refuge, resulting in the deaths of at least 20 persons, including women and children. Official accounts of these events generally blamed "terrorists," "separatists," and "religious extremists" for what was portrayed as violent terrorist attacks on community members and security personnel. Human rights organizations asserted that security forces often shot at groups of Uighurs in their homes or during worship.
The government's control of information coming out of the XUAR, together with its increasingly tight security posture there, made it difficult to verify the conflicting reports (see also the Tibet annex for incidents of abuse in the TAR and other Tibetan areas).
Although legal reforms in recent years decreased the use of the death penalty and improved the review process, authorities executed some defendants in criminal proceedings following convictions that lacked due process and adequate channels for appeal.
There were multiple reports of individuals detained by authorities and held at undisclosed locations.
Starting in July, authorities launched a nationwide crackdown on the legal community, detaining more than 300 lawyers and law associates on charges ranging from "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" to "inciting subversion of state power." Many of them were held for months under "residential surveillance at an undisclosed location" without access to attorneys or to their family members, in violation of criminal procedure laws. These "disappeared lawyers" included Wang Yu, who represented the "Beijing Feminist Five," as well as young girls who had been sexually abused by their teacher; Li Heping, who represented underground church members and Falun Gong practitioners; Xie Yanyi, who also defended Falun Gong practitioners; and Zhang Kai, who defended Wenzhou churches facing demolition and forced cross removal and who was detained on the eve of a planned meeting with a prominent foreign diplomat.
Other "disappeared" lawyers and legal associates included lawyer Huang Liqun; lawyer and Li Heping's brother Li Chunfu; legal intern Li Shuyun; law firm accountant Wang Fang; lawyer Zhou Shifeng; lawyer Tang Tianhao; Bao Longjun, the husband of lawyer Wang Yu; Gao Yue, assistant to lawyer Li Heping; legal administrative assistant Liu Sixin; lawyer Wang Quanzhang; legal intern Xie Yuandong; lawyer Zhao Wei; lawyer Xie Yang; law firm administrative assistant Wu Gan; legal assistant Liu Peng; and legal assistant Fang Xiangui. At year's end the whereabouts of these and several other detained law associates and attorneys were unknown. Many were denied access to their attorneys.
Five men working in Hong Kong's publishing industry disappeared between October and December from Thailand, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen. In addition to being Hong Kong residents, one of the men was a Swedish citizen and another was a British citizen. Media coverage of these cases noted that the men worked for Mighty Current, a publishing house, and its affiliate, Causeway Bay Bookstore, which were known for selling books critical of the CCP and its leaders. Family members and colleagues believed PRC security officials were responsible for their disappearances, and state-run Chinese media later covered a televised "confession" of one of the abducted individuals. International media also reported on the alleged involvement of PRC security officials in these disappearances.
During the year the government still had not provided a comprehensive, credible accounting of all those killed, missing, or detained in connection with the violent suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations. Most observers estimated that fewer than a dozen persons remained in prison from that time. Many activists who were involved in the demonstrations continued to suffer official harassment.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits the physical abuse and mistreatment of detainees and forbids prison guards from coercing confessions, insulting prisoners' dignity, and beating or encouraging others to beat prisoners. Amendments to the criminal procedure law exclude evidence, including confessions obtained through illegal means, in certain categories of criminal cases.
Numerous former prisoners and detainees reported they were beaten, subjected to electric shock, forced to sit on stools for hours on end, deprived of sleep, and otherwise subjected to physical and psychological abuse. Although ordinary prisoners were abused, prison authorities reportedly singled out political and religious dissidents for particularly harsh treatment. In some instances close relatives of dissidents also were singled out for abuse.
The problem of torture was systemic, according to a UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT) report released in December that detailed the extent to which torture was embedded in the criminal justice system. While UNCAT acknowledged some improvements, such as the broader use of surveillance cameras during interrogations, the report stated that torture was "entrenched."
In September Gao Zhisheng publicized his story of extensive abuse and torture sustained during his years in a Xinjiang prison. He stated he spent three years in solitary confinement and was tortured with an electric baton to the face. Over a period of 21 months, he was allowed outside only once.
In November activist Zhang Liumao died while in the custody of Guangzhou public security authorities. His family's lawyer examined the corpse and found that it was bloody and bruised with apparent signs of torture. Authorities detained Zhang in August after a sudden raid on his home and charged him with "picking quarrels and causing trouble." He had not yet been tried at the time of his death.
During his trial in July, Wang Qingying, a lawyer and rights activist detained in 2014 ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen protests and charged with "incitement to subvert state power," described mistreatment suffered in detention. Wang reported being hit, slapped, confined without adequate space and food, and interrogated for 12 hours at a time until he confessed.
In March the media reported that interrogators in Shenyang tortured veteran activist Jiang Lijun and others while in detention. Jiang's arrest came after he wrote a letter to the central government reporting that local officials were embezzling funds intended as compensation for villagers whose lands had been confiscated for a water project. Jiang was reportedly beaten, sprayed with cold water, hung from his wrists, and bound in painful positions.
Members of the minority Uighur ethnic group reported systematic torture and other degrading treatment by law enforcement officers and the penal system (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities). For example, Uighur exile Ershiddin told reporters that while held as a political prisoner, he and other Uighur inmates were beaten by guards, underfed, and verbally abused by ethnic Han inmates.
Lawyers who attempted to shed light on the problem of torture in the criminal justice system themselves became targets of intimidation and harassment. In one case rights lawyer Yu Wensheng, who had previously alleged torture by police during a three-month detention in 2014, was detained for two days during the summer. Yu had said authorities deprived him of sleep and tied him to a metal chair for hours while trying to get him to confess to supporting and helping to organize prodemocracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.
A May Human Rights Watch report found continued widespread use of degrading treatment and torture by law enforcement authorities. Some courts continued to admit as evidence coerced confessions, despite revisions to the criminal procedure law in 2012 restricting the use of unlawfully obtained evidence. After examining 158,000 criminal court verdicts published on the Supreme People's Court website, Human Rights Watch found that judges excluded confessions in only 6 percent of the cases in which torture was alleged and that all the defendants were convicted, even in the cases when evidence was excluded. Lawyers reported that interrogators turned to less-detectable methods of torture. Confessions were often videotaped; harsh treatments beforehand were not. Former detainees reported baton beatings, shackling to chairs, hanging by the wrists, prolonged sleep deprivation, and various forms of psychological abuse.
According to the Legal Daily (a state-owned newspaper covering legal affairs), the Ministry of Public Security directly administered 23 high-security psychiatric hospitals for the criminally insane (also known as ankang facilities). While many of those committed to mental health facilities had been convicted of murder and other violent crimes, there were also reports of activists and petitioners involuntarily subjected to psychiatric treatment for political reasons. Public security officials may commit individuals to ankang facilities and force treatment for "conditions" that have no basis in psychiatry. For example, in October one county-level city in Sichuan Province reported that fully one-third of its ankang patients were diagnosed as suffering from the "mental illness" of "creating a disturbance and causing trouble."
The law bans involuntary mental health examinations and inpatient treatment except in cases in which patients expressed intent to harm themselves or others. Legal experts maintained, however, that the law does not provide meaningful legal protections for persons sent to psychiatric facilities. The law fails to provide for the right to a lawyer and restricts a person's right to communicate with those outside of the institutions during the "acute onset of illness" or "to avoid hampering treatment." Amendments to the criminal procedure law require a procuratorate (the agency responsible for both prosecution and investigation) review and a court decision for the psychiatric commitment of persons who have committed serious offenses but are exempt from criminal responsibility under the law. The amendments include a provision for appealing compulsory medical treatment decisions. Civil society and media sources reported that enforcement of these laws remained uneven.
As of January 1, the government claimed it was ending the long-standing practice of involuntarily harvesting the organs of executed prisoners for use in donor transplants. In prior years the National Health and Family Planning Commission reported approximately 10,000 organ transplants a year, while as of August there were approximately 4,700 voluntary organ donations. State media reported the transition to a fully voluntary organ donation system began in January. International medical professionals and human rights advocates, however, questioned the voluntary nature of the system, which allows donations from prisoners on death row.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in penal institutions for both political prisoners and criminal offenders were generally harsh and often degrading.
Legislation in 2013 formally abolished the Re-education through Labor (RTL) system. State media announced that all RTL inmates would be released at the end of 2013 but added that all preabolition penalties would be considered legitimate. Other administrative detention measures remained, including custody and education for sex workers and their clients, compulsory drug rehabilitation treatment for drug users, and "legal education" centers for religious and political activists.
Despite the official abolition of the RTL camps, there were still reports of forced labor during the year. In Aksu prefecture, ethnic Uighurs were forced to perform farm labor as a way of keeping them from getting involved in "illegal activities."
Physical Conditions: Authorities regularly held prisoners and detainees in overcrowded conditions with poor sanitation. Food often was inadequate and of poor quality, and many detainees relied on supplemental food, medicines, and warm clothing provided by relatives. Prisoners often reported sleeping on the floor because there were no beds or bedding. In many cases provisions for sanitation, ventilation, heating, lighting, and access to potable water were inadequate.
Adequate, timely medical care for prisoners remained a serious problem, despite official assurances that prisoners have the right to prompt medical treatment. Prison authorities withheld medical treatment from political prisoners.
In September 2014 Yakub Idris, a 56-year-old member of the Uighur ethnic minority, died while serving a 10-year sentence for "illegal religious activities" following a mass trial in a sports field in May 2014. Family members described Idris's health as good when his term began, but heart and lung complications developed in prison, and authorities denied requests for outside medical care.
There were reports that some well-known prisoners received better medical care than provided to most prisoners. Authorities allowed a civilian cardiac specialist in Beijing to examine Gao Yu, a 71-year-old journalist originally sentenced to seven years for leaking state secrets abroad. In November Gao's prison sentence was reduced, and she was granted medical parole and allowed to serve the remainder of her sentence outside prison.
The criminal procedure law effective in 2013 included a new section on juvenile justice. In March the Supreme People's Procuratorate announced new data showing "strict adherence to the policy of reducing juvenile arrests and indictments," according to the DuiHua Foundation. The same figures showed the number of juvenile arrests later thrown out by the court had expanded from 17 percent in 2012 to 26 percent in 2014.
Political prisoners were held with the general prison population and reported being beaten by other prisoners at the instigation of guards. Authorities did not allow some dissidents supplemental food, medicine, and warm clothing from relatives.
Conditions in administrative detention facilities were similar to those in prisons. Beating deaths occurred in administrative detention facilities. Detainees reported beatings, sexual assaults, lack of proper food, and limited or no access to medical care.
Administration: Authorities employed alternatives to incarceration for both violent and nonviolent offenders. According to an April article published in the Legal Daily newspaper, approximately 2.3 million individuals had gone through community correction since 2003, with an estimated 740,000 individuals in the program as of February. The same source reported an annual increase of 51,000 individuals in community correction programs.
There were no prison ombudsmen per se, but prisoners and detainees are legally entitled to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The law states that letters from a prisoner to higher authorities of the prison or to the judicial organs shall be free from examination; it was unclear to what extent the law was implemented. While authorities occasionally investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions, the results were not documented in a publicly accessible manner. Many prisoners and detainees did not have reasonable access to visitors and could not engage in religious practices. Under article 52 of the Prison Law, "considerations shall be given to the special habits and customs of prisoners of minority ethnic groups." Article 23 of the Detention Center Regulation has similar requirements. Little information was available about the implementation of these regulations.
Independent Monitoring: Information about prisons and various other types of administrative and extralegal detention facilities was considered a state secret, and the government did not permit independent monitoring of these facilities. Authorities did not allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to access prisoners or perform prison visits in the country.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Arbitrary arrest and detention remained serious problems. The law grants police broad administrative detention powers and the ability to detain individuals for extended periods without formal arrest or criminal charges. Throughout the year lawyers, human rights activists, journalists, religious leaders, and former political prisoners and their family members continued to be targeted for arbitrary detention or arrest.
Many activists were subjected to extralegal house arrest, denied travel rights, or administratively detained in different types of facilities, including black jails. Authorities also reportedly kept other dissidents under house arrest and denied necessary medical attention to some activists while in detention.
Despite being released from prison in 2011, activist Hu Jia remained under extrajudicial house arrest during the year, although he was allowed to leave his house under some conditions. He reported being allowed to exercise in his neighborhood, although he was constantly followed by security officials. Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who was released from prison in August 2014, remained confined to his home under strict house arrest. He was detained briefly and interrogated several times in the fall and early winter. He was also denied access to dental care.
Law professor Chen Taihe was arrested during the July crackdown on lawyers. In August he was released to his home and was under house arrest since then. Police frequently questioned him, and his communications were monitored.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The main domestic security agencies include the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Public Security, and the People's Armed Police. The People's Liberation Army is primarily responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Local jurisdictions also frequently used civilian municipal security forces, known as "urban management" officials (chengguan), to enforce administrative measures. Oversight of these forces was highly localized and ad hoc. By law officials can be criminally prosecuted for abuses of power, but such cases were rarely pursued.
The Ministry of Public Security coordinates the civilian police force, which is organized into specialized police agencies and local, county, and provincial jurisdictions. Procuratorate oversight of the police was limited. Corruption at the local level was widespread. Police and urban management officials engaged in extrajudicial detention, extortion, and assault.
Regulations state that police in prisons and RTL facilities faced dismissal if found to have beaten, applied corporal punishment, or abused inmates or to have instigated such acts, but it was not clear the regulations were implemented.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Police detention beyond 37 days requires approval of a formal arrest by the procuratorate. After formally arresting a suspect, police are authorized to detain a suspect for up to an additional seven months while the case is investigated.
After the completion of a police investigation, the procuratorate detain a suspect an additional 45 days while determining whether to file criminal charges. If charges are filed, authorities can detain a suspect for an additional 45 days before beginning judicial proceedings. Police sometimes detained persons beyond the period allowed by law, and pretrial detention periods of a year or longer were common.
The law stipulates that detainees be allowed to meet with defense counsel before criminal charges are filed. Some criminal defense attorneys stated that under the 2013 revised criminal procedure law, their ability to meet with clients improved significantly. In some cases defense attorneys could arrange visits at any time and have private meetings with their clients in detention centers. This generally did not apply to cases considered politically sensitive.
The criminal procedure law requires a court to provide a lawyer to a defendant who has not already retained one; who has sight, hearing, or speaking disabilities or is a minor; or who faces the death penalty. The 2013 revisions added defendants facing a life sentence or who have mental disabilities to this list. This law applies whether or not the defendant is indigent. Courts may also provide lawyers to other criminal defendants who cannot afford them, although courts did not often do so.
Criminal defendants are entitled to apply for bail (also translated as "a guarantor pending trial") while awaiting trial, but the system did not appear to operate effectively, and authorities released few suspects on bail.
The law requires notification of family members within 24 hours of detention, but authorities often held individuals without providing such notification for significantly longer periods, especially in politically sensitive cases. Under a sweeping exception, officials are not required to provide notification if doing so would "hinder the investigation" of a case. The revised criminal procedure law limits this exception to cases involving state security or terrorism.
The law allows for residential surveillance rather than detention in a formal facility under certain circumstances. With the approval of the next higher-level authorities, officials may place "residential surveillance" on a suspect at a designated place of residence (i.e., a place other than the suspect's home) for up to six months when they suspect crimes of endangering state security, terrorism, or serious bribery and believe that surveillance at the suspect's home would impede the investigation. When possible, authorities must notify relatives of individuals placed under formal arrest or residential surveillance in a designated abode within 24 hours, but in many notable cases during the year this did not occur. Authorities may also prevent defense lawyers from meeting with suspects in these categories of cases. Attorneys for the rights lawyers and law personnel detained over the summer frequently attempted to meet with their clients but were turned away outside detention centers. Authorities employed "residential surveillance at a designated location" extensively in the nationwide crackdown against lawyers and activists that began in July. Human Rights Watch reported this practice left detainees at higher risk for torture. Former political prisoners said that being cut off from the outside world increased the risk of mental breakdowns.
The law provides for the right to petition the government for resolution of grievances, but citizens who traveled to Beijing to petition the central government were frequently subjected to arbitrary detention, often by police dispatched from the petitioner's hometown. Petitioners reported harsh treatment by police. In October Li Xinhua alleged he was detained and beaten by officers from the Yuegezhuang police station in southwest Beijing, including the head of the police station. Li claimed his treatment resulted in broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder. Some provincial governments operated black jails in Beijing or in other localities, where petitioners from their districts were held in extrajudicial detention. Petitioners reported being taken by police in broad daylight and driven to these illegal black jails and held without access to a lawyer. They were often released within a day or two without charges but ordered to return to their hometowns.
Authorities used administrative detention to intimidate political and religious activists and to prevent public demonstrations. Forms of administrative detention included "custody and education" (for women engaged in prostitution and those soliciting prostitution), "custody and training" (for minor criminal offenders), and "legal education" centers for political and religious activists, particularly Falun Gong practitioners. The law establishes a system of "compulsory isolation for drug rehabilitation." The minimum stay in such centers is two years, and the law states that treatment may include labor.
Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities arrested persons on allegations of revealing state secrets, subversion, and other crimes as a means to suppress political dissent and public advocacy. These charges – including what constitutes a state secret – remained ill defined. Authorities also used the vaguely worded charges of "picking quarrels and provoking troubles" broadly against many civil rights activists. It remained unclear what this term means. Authorities also detained citizens and foreigners under broad and ambiguous state secret laws for, among other actions, disclosing information on criminal trials, meetings, commercial activity, and government activity. Authorities sometimes retroactively labeled a particular action as a violation of state secret laws. A counterespionage law approved in November 2014 grants authorities the power to require individuals and organizations to cease any activities deemed a threat to national security. Failure to comply could result in seizure of property and assets.
Authorities placed numerous dissidents, activists, and petitioners under house arrest during the period before the World War II military parade in September and at other sensitive times, such as during the visits of senior foreign government officials or preceding the annual plenary sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the fifth plenum in October, the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, and sensitive anniversaries in Tibetan areas and the XUAR.
There were multiple reports of lawyers, petitioners, and other rights activists being arrested or detained for lengthy periods of time, only to have the charges later dismissed for lack of evidence. In June authorities detained seven lawyers in Qing'an, Heilongjiang, when they tried to provide legal services to a group of activists who had been detained for protesting the fatal shooting of Xu Chunhe by police. Although initially given 15 days of administrative detention for "picking quarrels and provoking troubles," all seven were reportedly released within a week following protests from lawyers and human rights activists.
Conditions faced by those under house arrest varied but sometimes included complete isolation in their homes under police guard. In some instances security officials were stationed inside the homes of subjects under house arrest. Others under house arrest occasionally could leave their homes to work or run errands but were required to ride in police vehicles. In some cases police or plainclothes security officers escorted the children of politically sensitive individuals to and from school. When permitted to leave their homes, subjects of house arrest were usually under police surveillance. Authorities in the XUAR used house arrest and other forms of arbitrary detention against those accused of supporting the "three evils" of religious extremism, "splittism," and terrorism.
Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention could last longer than one year. Defendants in "sensitive cases" reported being subjected to prolonged pretrial detention. Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang was held for 19 months before standing trial.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the law states that the courts shall exercise judicial power independently, without interference from administrative organs, social organizations, and individuals, the judiciary did not in fact exercise judicial power independently. Judges regularly received political guidance on pending cases, including instructions on how to rule, from both the government and the CCP, particularly in politically sensitive cases. The CCP Politics and Law Committee has the authority to review and influence court operations at all levels of the judiciary. All judicial and procuratorate appointments require approval by the CCP Organization Department.
Corruption often influenced court decisions, since safeguards against judicial corruption were vague and poorly enforced. Local governments appointed and paid local court judges and, as a result, often exerted influence over the rulings of those judges.
A CCP-controlled committee decides most major cases, and the duty of trial and appellate court judges is to craft a legal justification for the committee's decision.
Courts are not authorized to rule on the constitutionality of legislation. The law permits organizations or individuals to question the constitutionality of laws and regulations, but a constitutional challenge may be directed only to the promulgating legislative body. Lawyers had little or no opportunity to rely on constitutional claims in litigation.
Media sources indicated public security authorities used televised confessions of lawyers, foreign and domestic bloggers, journalists, and business executives in an attempt to establish guilt before their criminal trial proceedings began, such as the televised confessions of journalists Gao Yu, Wang Xiaolu (see section 2.a.), Xiang Nanfu, and socialite Guo Meimei, as well as lawyers Zhou Shifeng and Huang Liqun.
"Judicial independence" remained one of the reportedly off-limit subjects that the CCP ordered university professors not to discuss (see section 2.a., Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).
In July the Supreme People's Court (SPC) announced that citizens could now look up online information on trials, verdicts, and the implementation of court decisions of courts across the country. All nonmilitary courts had been linked to a "judicial data center," a central database for trial information and verdicts. According to the SPC, the project aims to encourage judicial organs to improve their performance through increased transparency, and all of the country's 3,511 courts were able to upload the information to the central system.
In August the NPC's Standing Committee amended legislation that could further limit lawyers' ability to adequately represent their clients. These amendments, which became effective November 1, criminalize attorneys' actions that "insult, defame, or threaten judicial officers," "do not heed the court's admonition," or "severely disrupt courtroom order." The changes also criminalize disclosing client or case information to the media or using protests, the media, or other means to influence court decisions. Violators face fines and up to three years in prison. The amendments passed despite protests by Chinese lawyers, including an open letter signed by 500 lawyers in January opposing these proposed changes. They were concerned about the vague definitions of "insulting," "defaming," and "threatening" and the law's one-sided application to defense counsel but not to prosecutors.
Although the amended criminal procedure law reaffirms the presumption of innocence, the criminal justice system remained biased toward a presumption of guilt, especially in high-profile or politically sensitive cases. According to the March work report submitted to the NPC by the SPC, almost 1.2 million individuals were convicted and 778 were acquitted in 2014. The low acquittal rate of less than 1 percent has persisted for many years.
In many politically sensitive trials, courts delivered guilty verdicts immediately following proceedings with little time for deliberation. Courts often punished defendants who refused to acknowledge guilt with harsher sentences than those who confessed. The appeals process rarely reversed convictions and failed to provide sufficient avenues for review; remedies for violations of defendants' rights were inadequate.
Regulations of the SPC require trials to be open to the public, with the exceptions of cases involving state secrets, privacy issues, minors, or, on the application of a party to the proceedings, commercial secrets. Authorities used the state-secrets provision to keep politically sensitive proceedings closed to the public, sometimes even to family members, and to withhold defendant's access to defense counsel. Court regulations state that foreigners with valid identification should be allowed to observe trials under the same criteria as citizens, but foreigners were permitted to attend court proceedings only by invitation. As in past years, authorities barred foreign diplomats and journalists from attending a number of trials. In some instances the trials were reclassified as "state secrets" cases or otherwise closed to the public. During the year foreign diplomats attempted to attend nearly a dozen public trials throughout the country. In each instance court officials claimed there were no available seats in the courtroom and that foreigners needed prior permission to attend trials.
Portions of some trials were broadcast, and court proceedings were a regular television feature. A few courts published their verdicts on the internet. Many courts started websites purporting to provide the public with nonconfidential information about court cases and decisions.
Individuals facing administrative detention do not have the right to seek legal counsel. Criminal defendants were eligible for legal assistance, although the vast majority of criminal defendants went to trial without a lawyer. According to an April article in the Legal Daily, approximately 1.24 million cases received legal aid. The revised criminal procedure law expanded the availability of legal aid to include cases that could result in the death penalty or life imprisonment and cases involving individuals with certain physical or mental disabilities.
Human rights lawyers reported that authorities did not permit them to defend certain clients or threatened them with punishment if they chose to do so. The government suspended or revoked the licenses of lawyers or their firms to stop them from taking sensitive cases, such as defending prodemocracy dissidents, house-church activists, Falun Gong practitioners, or government critics. Some lawyers declined to represent defendants in politically sensitive cases, and such defendants frequently found it difficult to find an attorney.
The CCP continued to require law firms with three or more party members to form a CCP unit within the firm. Firms with one or two party members may establish joint CCP units with other firms. In smaller counties and cities with few lawyers, party members may join local Justice Bureau CCP units. This rule also applies to private companies and other organizations.
During the year the government launched a nationwide crackdown on lawyers for their involvement in high-profile, rights-related cases. Many of the detained lawyers were themselves denied the right to counsel. When defendants were able to retain counsel in politically sensitive cases, government officials sometimes prevented attorneys from organizing an effective defense. Tactics employed by court and government officials included unlawful detentions, disbarment, harassment and physical intimidation, and denial of access to evidence and to clients.
Authorities used the annual licensing review process administered by the All China Lawyers Association to withhold or delay the renewal of professional lawyers' licenses, which restricted the ability of a number of human rights and public interest lawyers to practice law. Lawyers are required to be members of the CCP-controlled All China Lawyers Association, and starting in 2012, the Ministry of Justice required all lawyers to pledge their loyalty to the leadership of the CCP upon issuance or renewal of their license to practice law.
In September a new regulation was jointly announced by the SPC, Supreme People's Procuratorate, Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of State Security, and Ministry of Justice to "safeguard lawyers' rights." The regulation provides that government organs should respect lawyers; improve their systems to ensure lawyers' rights; and safeguard lawyers' rights to know, rights to petition, and other rights, including the right to meet with their clients, read files, collect evidence, and raise questions. According to the new guidelines, prison officials should either allow defense attorneys to meet suspects or defendants or explain why the meeting cannot be arranged at that time. The regulations specify that a meeting should be arranged within 48 hours. Procuratorates and courts should allow defense attorneys to access and read case files within three working days. The time and frequency of opportunities available for defense attorneys to read case files shall not be limited, according to the new guidelines. The new regulations also bar lawyers from releasing details about their clients' cases to the media.
Defense attorneys may be held legally responsible if their client commits perjury, and prosecutors and judges have wide discretion to decide what constitutes perjury.
In some sensitive cases, lawyers had no pretrial access to their clients, and defendants and lawyers were not allowed to communicate with one another during trials. In contravention of the revised criminal procedure law (see section 1.d.), criminal defendants frequently were not assigned an attorney until a case was brought to court. According to statistics reported in the domestic media, defense attorneys took part in less than 30 percent of criminal cases; in some provinces it was less than 12 percent.
Mechanisms allowing defendants to confront their accusers were inadequate. Only a small percentage of trials reportedly involved witnesses. A provision of the revised criminal procedure law requires witnesses to appear in court and includes protections for witnesses and financial allowances for performing the duties of a witness. Judges, however, retained significant discretion over whether live witness testimony was required. In most criminal trials, prosecutors read witness statements, which neither the defendants nor their lawyers had an opportunity to rebut through cross-examination. Although the law states that pretrial witness statements cannot serve as the sole basis for conviction, prosecutors relied heavily on such statements. Defense attorneys had no authority to compel witnesses to testify or to mandate discovery, although they could apply for access to government-held evidence relevant to their case. Defense attorneys received minimal pretrial access to information. Observers believed adherence to the regulation on lawyers' rights announced in September would improve some of these inadequacies.
In September the Ministry of Justice announced a rule that requires assigning lawyers to convicted prisoners on death row who cannot afford one during the review of their sentences. The number of capital offenses in the criminal code was reduced to 46 in November. Official figures on executions were classified as a state secret.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Government officials continued to deny holding any political prisoners, asserting that persons were detained not for their political or religious views but because they violated the law. Authorities, however, continued to imprison citizens for reasons related to politics and religion. Tens of thousands of political prisoners remained incarcerated, some in prisons and others in administrative detention. The government did not grant international humanitarian organizations access to political prisoners.
Foreign NGOs estimated that several hundred persons remained in prison for "counterrevolutionary crimes" that were removed from the criminal code in 1997. Thousands of others were serving sentences under state security statutes. The government apparently neither reviewed all cases of those charged before 1997 with counterrevolutionary crimes nor released persons jailed for nonviolent offenses under repealed provisions of the criminal law. The government maintained that prisoners serving sentences for counterrevolutionary crimes and endangering state security were eligible to apply for sentence reduction and parole. Political prisoners, however, were granted early release at lower rates than other prisoners. Observers believed that persons remained in prison for convictions in connection with their involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen prodemocracy movement, although the number was unknown because related official statistics were never made public.
According to the 2014 China Law Yearbook, in 2013 authorities arrested 1,384 individuals for "endangering state security." The NGO Duihua Foundation reported approximately 300 trials for "endangering state security" in 2014.
Many political prisoners remained in prison or under other forms of detention at year's end, including rights activists Wang Bingzhang, Liu Xianbin, and Xu Zhiyung; writer Yang Maodong (Guo Feixiong); Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti; Tibetan Buddhist monastic leader Karma Tsewang (Kenpo Kartse); former Tiananmen student leader Zhou Yongjun; labor activist Kong Youping; Roman Catholic bishops Ma Daqin and Su Zhimin; pastor Zhang Shaojie; Falun Gong practitioner Bian Lichao; and lawyers Wang Yu and Li Heping.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, coauthor of the Charter '08 manifesto that called for increased political freedoms and human rights, remained in Jinzhou Prison in Liaoning Province. Liu's wife, Liu Xia, remained under 24-hour surveillance, and police escorted her whenever they allowed her to leave her home. Multiple media reports indicated that Liu Xia suffered from various medical ailments resulting from her long-term isolation.
At year's end reliable information was not available on whether the following individuals remained in detention: Abdulla Jamal, Uighur activist Dilkex Tilivaldi, Feng Xinchun, Gonpo Lhundrub, Gonpo Thar, Jalo, Tselo, and Wang Diangang.
Criminal punishments continued to include "deprivation of political rights" for a fixed period after release from prison, during which time the individual was denied rights of free speech, association, and publication. Former prisoners reported that their ability to find employment, travel, obtain residence permits, rent residences, and access social services was severely restricted. Authorities frequently subjected former political prisoners and their families to police surveillance, telephone wiretaps, searches, and other forms of harassment or threats.
In January authorities arrested Guo Yushan, founder of Transition Institute, a think tank and NGO that published research on tax reforms, education equality, legal reforms, and social and economic issues. Guo was charged with "illegal business activity." He and an associate were released in September "pending further investigation."
Rights lawyer Tang Jingling, former teacher Wang Qingying, and writer-activist Yuan Xinting, known as the "Guangzhou three," were put on trial in mid-June at the Guangzhou Intermediate Court for "incitement to subvert state power," after more than a year in custody. Defense lawyers said the bench had denied the defense request to call witnesses.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Courts deciding civil matters faced the same limitations on judicial independence as criminal courts. The State Compensation Law provides administrative and judicial remedies for plaintiffs whose rights or interests government agencies or officials have infringed. The law also allows compensation for wrongful detention, mental trauma, or physical injuries inflicted by detention center or prison officials. Citizens seldom applied for state compensation because of the high cost of bringing lawsuits, low credibility of courts, and citizens' lack of awareness of the State Compensation Law. Victims' claims were difficult to assess because of vague definitions in the law and difficulties in obtaining evidence of injury or damage. Judges were reluctant to accept state compensation cases, and government agencies seldom implemented court judgments in favor of plaintiffs.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
While the law states that the "freedom and privacy of correspondence of citizens are protected by law," authorities often did not respect the privacy of citizens. Although the law requires warrants before officers can search premises, officials frequently ignored this requirement. The Public Security Bureau and prosecutors are authorized to issue search warrants on their own authority without judicial review. Cases of forced entry by police officers continued to be reported.
Authorities monitored telephone calls, text messages, faxes, e-mail, instant messaging, and other digital communications intended to remain private. They also opened and censored domestic and international mail. Security services routinely monitored and entered residences and offices to gain access to computers, telephones, and fax machines. Western journalists leaving the country found some of their personal belongings searched. In some cases, when material deemed politically sensitive was uncovered, the journalists had to sign paperwork stating they would "voluntarily" leave these documents behind in China.
According to foreign media reports, the Ministry of Public Security used tens of millions of surveillance cameras in the country. In October the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau announced that it had "covered every corner of the capital with a video surveillance system." Authorities justified the security cameras as a way to improve public safety, crime fighting, traffic management, and "social stability." Human rights groups stated that authorities increasingly relied on the cameras to monitor and intimidate political dissidents, Tibetans, and Uighurs.
The monitoring and disruption of telephone and internet communications were particularly widespread in the XUAR and Tibetan areas. Authorities frequently warned dissidents and activists, underground religious figures, and former political prisoners throughout the country not to meet with foreign journalists or diplomats. Security personnel harassed and detained family members of political prisoners, including following them to meetings with foreign reporters and diplomats and urging them to remain silent about the cases of their relatives. In some cases rights advocates and family members of political prisoners were harassed or interrogated following their meetings with journalists or diplomats. Certain members of the rights community were barred from meeting with visiting dignitaries.
In November 2014 Shenzhen authorities jailed Wang Yingguo, owner of a stone-processing plant, for providing economic support to prominent activists and petitioners. Wang's company was shut down, and furniture and computers were confiscated.
Family members of activists, dissidents, Falun Gong practitioners, journalists, unregistered religious figures, and former political prisoners were targeted for arbitrary arrest, detention, and harassment (see section 1.d.).
Forced relocation because of urban development continued in some locations. Protests over relocation terms or compensation were common, and some protest leaders were prosecuted. In rural areas infrastructure and commercial development projects resulted in the forced relocation of thousands of persons.
Property-related disputes between citizens and government authorities often turned violent and were widespread in both urban and rural areas. These disputes frequently stemmed from local officials' collusion with property developers to pay little or no compensation to displaced residents, combined with a lack of effective government oversight or media scrutiny of local officials' involvement in property transactions as well as a lack of legal remedies or other dispute resolution mechanisms for displaced residents. The problem persisted despite the central government's efforts to impose stronger controls over illegal land seizures and to standardize compensation. Redevelopment in traditional Uighur neighborhoods in cities throughout the XUAR, such as the Old City area in Kashgar, resulted in the destruction of historically or culturally important areas. Some residents voiced opposition to the lack of proper compensation by the government and coercive measures used to obtain their agreement to redevelopment. There were several reports of herders in Inner Mongolia complaining of confiscation of traditional pastoral lands for development.
For information on the government's family-planning policies and their consequences, see section 6, Women.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of speech and press, although authorities generally did not respect these rights, especially when they conflicted with CCP interests. Authorities continued tight control of print, broadcast, and electronic media and regularly used them to propagate government views and CCP ideology. During the year authorities censored and manipulated the press and the internet, particularly around sensitive anniversaries.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: Citizens could discuss political topics privately and in small groups without official punishment, except where such speech criticized the government or challenged the CCP. During the year some independent think tanks, study groups, and seminars reported pressure to cancel some sessions on sensitive topics. Those who made politically sensitive comments in public speeches, academic discussions, or in remarks to the media remained subject to punitive measures.
In December lawyer Pu Zhiqiang went on trial for "inciting ethnic hatred" and "picking quarrels and provoking troubles." The case was based on seven posts he made to the social media platform Weibo. Pu was a well known attorney and leader in the rights community and had amassed a huge following on social media. On December 22, he was found guilty and sentenced to a three-year suspended prison term, contigent on good behavior.
Authorities cracked down on peaceful and private commemorations of the 26th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Sichuan-based activist Chen Yunfei disappeared on March 25 after he visited the grave of a Tiananmen Square victim. He was held for more than a week and then charged with subversion of state power and "picking quarrels."
In September police in Guangdong's Zengcheng City detained Liu Yajie, Huang Xi, Wei Xiaobing and Huang Yongxiang after they created campaign T-shirts calling for the release of detained rights attorney Wang Yu.
Security officials in Zhengzhou municipality in Henan Province detained activists Dong Guangping and Yu Shiwen in May 2014 on charges of "gathering a crowd to disturb order in a public place" for their attendance at a memorial service commemorating Tiananmen Square victims and former reformist CCP leaders Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang. Dong was released on bail in February and fled to Thailand. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognized him as a refugee, but Thai authorities forcibly repatriated him in November at the request of Chinese authorities. His condition and whereabouts remained unknown. In February Yu Shiwen and his wife Chen Wei were indicted for "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," but as of November they had yet to be tried after 18 months of detention.
On November 27, activist Yang Maodong (Guo Feixiong) was sentenced to six years' imprisonment for "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" and "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble." The latter charge was added during the sentence hearing where Guo's lawyers were precluded from presenting a defense. Yang was an outspoken activist and writer known for leading peaceful protests. Guo's codefendants, activists Liu Yuandong and Sun Desheng, were sentenced to three and two-and-a-half years in prison, respectively.
The government frequently monitored gatherings of intellectuals, scholars, and dissidents where political or sensitive problems were discussed. To commemorate International Human Rights Day in 2008, a group of 303 intellectuals and activists released a petition entitled Charter '08, calling for the CCP to respect human rights and implement democratic reforms. Since then Charter '08 signers continued to report official harassment, especially around sensitive dates.
Press and Media Freedoms: While it did not dictate all content to be published or broadcast, the CCP and the government had unchecked authority to mandate if, when, and how particular issues were reported or to order that they not be reported at all. The CCP and the government was also willing to take punitive action post facto if a media agency published content the government later judged to be inappropriate. On November 1, the CCP Discipline Inspection Commission of the XUAR removed Zhao Xinwei from his position as chief editor of the Xinjiang Daily, a state-run newspaper, and placed him under investigation. Zhao was sacked for having failed to "maintain consistency" with the CCP Central Committee on matters such as combating "ethnic separatism, terrorism, and religious extremism." The government continued to strictly monitor the press and media, including film and television, via its broadcast and press regulatory body, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT). All books and magazines require state-issued publication numbers, which were expensive and often difficult to obtain. Nearly all print media, broadcast media, and book publishers were affiliated with the CCP or a government agency. There were a small number of print publications with some private ownership interest but no privately owned television or radio stations. The CCP directed the domestic media to refrain from reporting on certain subjects, and broadcast programming required government approval.
In 2013 SARFT began requiring news organizations to hold weekly lectures on the CCP's journalistic principles, and journalists applying to renew their media credentials were required to take an examination on Marxist journalistic ideals.
Broadcast and print media whose message was deemed to run contrary to officially sanctioned state media were censored. In the spring a former government broadcaster released the documentary "Under the Dome," which chronicled the country's pollution problems. Within days of the film going live online, it was watched by hundreds of millions of citizens. The journalist had included government voices in the documentary, which appeared to have tacit approval from the Environment Ministry, based on initial state media reports. After an unexpectedly large outpouring of public support, however, the film was blocked from all domestic websites.
Violence and Harassment: The government frequently impeded the work of the press, including citizen journalists. Journalists reported being subjected to physical attack, harassment, and intimidation when reporting on sensitive topics. Government officials used criminal prosecution, civil lawsuits, and other punishments, including violence, detention, and other forms of harassment, to intimidate authors and journalists and to prevent the dissemination of controversial writings. A domestic journalist could face demotion or job loss for publishing views that challenged the government. Zhao Xinwei, an editor at the state-run Xinjiang Daily newspaper, was fired in October for publishing an opinion that was "not in line with the center or regional party committee," according to official documents.
Sichuan-based bloggers who wrote for a human rights website were detained in June and later released. Journalist Wang Jing remained in detention following her reporting on a self-immolation in Tiananmen Square in 2014. Her lawyer told Radio Free Asia that her health had severely deteriorated during her extended pretrial detention.
Shenyang-based journalist Sun Haiyang was released in March after being held for 308 days without trial. Sun was arrested on charges of "inciting subversion of state power," "illegal business activity," and "creating a disturbance."
In October police detained journalist Liu Wei of the Southern Metropolis News weekly newspaper on suspicion of "leaking state secrets." Liu had reported on ties between a renowned Qigong master and business leaders and CPP officials. The party later issued a directive ordering news outlets not to report on Liu's arrest or situation.
Journalists who remained in prison at year's end included Liu Wei and Yang Tongyan. Uighur webmasters Dilshat Perhat and Nijat Azat continued to serve sentences for "endangering state security." During the year additional journalists working in traditional and new media were also imprisoned.
Foreign journalists based in the country continued to face a challenging environment for reporting. According to the annual Reporting Conditions survey of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) conducted in May, 99 percent of respondents did not believe reporting conditions in the country met international standards. In addition, 44 percent of respondents believed working conditions had stayed the same since the previous year, while 33 percent believed conditions had deteriorated. No member said that conditions for foreign journalists had improved during the year.
Restrictions on foreign journalists by central and local CCP propaganda departments remained strict, especially during sensitive times and anniversaries. Foreign press outlets reported that local employees of foreign news agencies were also subjected to official harassment and intimidation. The FCCC's survey reported that 72 percent of respondents described interference or obstruction by police or "unidentified individuals" while reporting, up from two-thirds in 2014. The number of respondents subjected to "manhandling or physical violence" was less than 5 percent, approximately half of the number reported in 2014. During the year the FCCC identified many cases in which police officers or unknown persons impeded foreign reporters from doing their work, including at least nine cases in which reporters were manhandled or subjected to physical force. In August reporters encountered several instances of interference in their coverage of a catastrophic explosion and fire in Tianjin, including one instance in which personnel of a Taiwan media outlet were detained and had a camera memory card confiscated. In December police in Beijing threw a Western journalist to the ground as he was trying to cover protests of the Pu Zhiqiang trial. Multiple journalists outside the courthouse that day reported being pushed, shoved, or punched in the back. The FCCC issued an immediate statement condemning the violence and harassment of the media by authorities.
The FCCC expressed alarm that the entry/exit police failed to respond in a timely fashion to a reporter's emergency request for the return of her passport, despite her doctor's written warning that she was suffering from a life-threatening condition that required her immediate medical evacuation to Hong Kong. While all respondents to the FCCC survey reported that their Ministry of Foreign Affairs press cards were issued within 12 working days, in at least one instance a journalist received only a six-month (vice a 12-month) renewal in what FCCC took as an expression of displeasure at the journalist's reporting.
Authorities continued to enforce tight restrictions on citizens employed by foreign news organizations. The code of conduct for citizen employees of foreign media organizations threatens with dismissal and loss of accreditation for those citizen employees who engage in "independent reporting." It instructs them to provide their employers information that projects "a good image of the country."
While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs daily press briefing was generally open, journalists did not have free access to other media events. During the year the Ministry of Defense began allowing select foreign media outlets to attend monthly press briefings.
Official guidelines for domestic journalists were often vague, subject to change at the discretion of propaganda officials, and enforced retroactively. Propaganda authorities forced newspapers to fire editors and journalists responsible for articles deemed inconsistent with official policy and suspended or closed publications. The system of postpublication review by propaganda officials encouraged self-censorship by editors seeking to avoid the losses associated with penalties for inadvertently printing unauthorized content.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were no indications the censorship restrictions had changed from 2013 when, according to the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications, 20.5 million illegal publications were confiscated and more than 10,000 websites involving pornography or other illegal content were punished.
The FCCC reported that the TAR remained off-limits to foreign journalists. At least 42 respondents to an FCCC survey said that they were told that reporting from Xinjiang (28) and Tibetan-inhabited areas outside of the TAR (14) was restricted or prohibited, which the FCCC contended was not consistent with the government's reporting rules. While authorities allowed foreign journalists access to Urumqi, XUAR, local and provincial authorities continued to control strictly the journalists' travel, access, and interviews, even forcing them to leave cities in other parts of the XUAR.
The CCP Central Propaganda Department ordered media outlets to adhere strictly to the information provided by authoritative official departments when reporting on officials suspected of involvement in graft or bribery. Throughout the year the Central Propaganda Department issued similar instructions regarding protests in Hong Kong, former central military commission vice chairman General Xu Caihou's arrest on corruption charges, and former security chief Zhou Yongkang's arrest. The orders included instructions for media outlets not to investigate or report on their own.
On August 31, Caijing magazine reporter Wang Xiaolu appeared on CCTV to confess to publishing a "sensational" and "irresponsible" article at a sensitive time for the Chinese stock market. Wang stated he researched the July 20 article, which reported that authorities were looking for ways to stop propping up the market "through abnormal, personal channels," to which he had added his "own subjective views." According to the official Xinhua news agency, Wang was placed under "criminal compulsory measures" on August 30 on suspicion of "colluding with others and fabricating and spreading fake information on securities and futures market."
Authorities continued to ban books with content they deemed controversial. The law permits only government-approved publishing houses to print books. SARFT controlled all licenses to publish. Newspapers, periodicals, books, audio and video recordings, or electronic publications could not be printed or distributed without the approval of the State Press and Publications Administration and relevant provincial publishing authorities. Individuals who attempted to publish without government approval faced imprisonment, fines, confiscation of their books, and other sanctions. The CCP also exerted control over the publishing industry by preemptively classifying certain topics as state secrets.
Many intellectuals and scholars exercised self-censorship, anticipating that books or papers on political topics would be deemed too sensitive to be published. The censorship process for private and government media also increasingly relied on self-censorship and, in a few cases, postpublication sanctions.
Authorities continued to jam, with varying degrees of success, Chinese-, Uighur-, and Tibetan-language broadcasts of the Voice of America (VOA), the BBC, and Radio Free Asia. English-language VOA broadcasts generally were not jammed. Internet distribution of streaming radio news and podcasts from these sources was often blocked. Despite the jamming of overseas broadcasts, the VOA, the BBC, Radio Free Asia, Deutsche Welle, and Radio France International had large audiences, including human rights advocates, ordinary citizens, and government officials.
In August Rexim and Shawket Hoshur, who were detained in 2014 in Xinjiang, were charged with "leaking state secrets" and put on trial. Observers believed this was an attempt to pressure their brother, Radio Free Asia Uighur-language reporter Shohret Hoshur, to cease broadcasting. On December 30, the two brothers were released from jail, while a third brother remained behind bars.
Overseas television newscasts, largely restricted to hotels and foreign residence compounds, were occasionally subject to censorship. Such censorship of foreign broadcasts also occurred around the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. Individual issues of foreign newspapers and magazines occasionally were banned when they contained articles deemed too sensitive.
Politically sensitive coverage in Chinese, and to a lesser extent in English, was censored more than coverage in other languages. The government prohibited some foreign and domestic films deemed too sensitive or selectively censored parts of films before they were released.
Actions to Expand Press Freedom: Foreign journalists completing the annual cycle of renewing their Ministry of Foreign Affairs-issued press cards and renewing their residency visas with the Public Security Bureau generally reported the process went smoothly, although one agency was warned that it was still "in trouble" over past reporting that displeased authorities. The time required was reduced to 10 working days, vice the earlier 15. In its survey covering events in 2014, the FCCC reported that 94 percent of the visas for journalists replacing colleagues in the country were issued within three months, and more than 40 percent were issued in less than two months. Once in the country, 93 percent reported their residence visas were issued by the Public Security Bureau's Entry and Exit Administration within the stipulated 15 working days.
The internet was widely available and widely used. The China Internet Network Information Center reported that, by the end of June, the number of internet users reached 668 million. The center reported that 18.94 million new users were added in the first half of the year.
In the 2013 third plenum communique, Certain Major Issues Regarding Comprehensively Deepening Reforms, the government affirmed the importance of managing and supervising the internet as well as of supervising online public opinion.
The CCP continued to increase efforts to monitor internet use, control content, restrict information, block access to foreign and domestic websites, encourage self-censorship, and punish those who ran afoul of political sensitivities. According to news sources, more than 14 government ministries participated in these efforts, resulting in the censorship of thousands of domestic and foreign websites, blogs, cell-phone text messages, social networking services, online chat rooms, online games, and e-mail. These measures were not universally effective. In addition to its own extensive system of internet censorship, the government imposed more responsibilities on internet companies to implement online censorship and surveillance regimes, and it sought to prohibit anonymous expression online.
In October police arrested 10 persons from Guangdong for conducting online campaign activities in support of Hong Kong's prodemocracy movement. They were accused of "picking quarrels and provoking disorder."
A State Council regulation deems personal blogs, computer bulletin boards, and cell-phone text messages to be part of the news media, which subjects these media to state restrictions on content. Internet service providers were instructed to use only domestic media news postings, to record information useful for tracking users and their viewing habits, to install software capable of copying e-mails, and to end immediately the transmission of "subversive material." The National Security Law passed in July codifies "state sovereignty" over the internet and calls for strengthening state management of the internet, including through prosecution of those who distribute "illegal and harmful information" on the internet.
Under guidance from the CCP, the government employed thousands of persons at the national, provincial, and local levels to monitor electronic communications. Official monitoring focused on such tools as social networking, microblogging, and video-sharing sites. Internet companies also employed thousands of censors to implement CCP directives.
A 2012 law requires persons to give their real names when signing up for internet, fixed telephone line, or cell-phone services. Providers must also require persons' names when allowing them to post information publicly.
Major news portals required users to register using their real names and identification numbers to comment on news articles. Individuals using the internet in public libraries were required to register using their national identity card, and usage reportedly was monitored at all public library terminals. In August the State Internet Information Office (SIIO) imposed new restrictions on the country's most popular mobile instant messaging service, WeChat, which was meant to curb the sharing of unauthorized political news and information. SIIO officials stated that users with public accounts, including companies, organizations, and celebrities, are required to register using their real names and to sign a contract promising to "obey the law and uphold the socialist system." The rules also bar the posting or reposting of political news and current affairs without government approval.
The government continued the crackdown on popular Weibo commentators known as "big Vs" (verified real-name accounts with large followings). According to media accounts, in the latter half of 2013 authorities interrogated hundreds of influential Weibo microbloggers because of their large followings and outspoken posts. Research commissioned by the United Kingdom newspaper The Telegraph in June estimated that the number of posts on Weibo may have fallen by as much as 70 percent in 2014 compared with the previous year in the wake of the government's aggressive campaign to intimidate and censor influential users.
The government consistently blocked access to websites it deemed controversial, especially those discussing Taiwan, the Dalai Lama, Tibet, underground religious and spiritual organizations, democracy activists, and the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. The government also at times blocked access to selected sites operated by foreign governments, news outlets, health organizations, educational institutions, NGOs, and social networking sites as well as to search engines that allowed rapid communication or organization of users. During the year the government continued to block other countries' instant messaging services, including Japan's Line and the popular Telegram.
Authorities continued to shut down or suspend dozens of public WeChat instant-messaging accounts without explanation. According to media reports, the accounts belonged to users who were popular for posting commentaries and articles on current affairs. Authorities took other measures to control speech on the internet. In April police took Liu Sifang from his home in Guangzhou to his birth town in southern Sichuan. Liu was arrested on suspicion of "using the internet to spread rumors" after he reportedly sent a tweet regarding the detention of fellow activist Ou Bo. Police also searched Liu's home and confiscated his computer.
The government continued to block almost all access to Google websites, including its mail service, photograph program, map service, and calendar application. Other websites that were blocked during the year included YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Soundcloud, Flickr, and Picasa. Many news sites were blocked, including Reuters, the English- and Chinese-language websites of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg. The websites of human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, were also blocked.
Some websites included images of cartoon police officers that warn users to stay away from forbidden content. Operators of web portals, blog-hosting services, and other content providers engaged in self-censorship to ensure their servers were free from politically sensitive content. Domestic websites that refused to self-censor political content were shut down, and many foreign websites were blocked. Millions of citizens had Twitter-like microblogs that circulated some news banned in the national media. The microblogs themselves were censored but often hours or days after a posting.
Authorities employed an array of technical measures to block "sensitive" websites based in foreign countries. The ability of users to access such sensitive sites varied from city to city. In parts of Xinjiang, citizens who used Virtual Private Networks to get around the firewall found their cell service suspended. The government also automatically censored e-mail and web chats based on a list of sensitive key words, such as "Falun Gong," "Dalai Lama," and "Tibetan independence."
While such censorship was effective in keeping casual users away from sensitive content, it was circumvented by some users through the use of various technologies. Information on proxy servers outside the country and software for defeating official censorship were readily available inside the country, but the government increasingly blocked access to the websites and proxy servers of commercial virtual private network providers. Despite official monitoring and censorship, dissidents and political activists continued to use the internet to call attention to political causes such as prisoner advocacy, political reform, ethnic discrimination, and corruption. Internet users spanning the political spectrum complained of censorship. Authorities sometimes blocked or closed the blogs of prominent activists, artists, scholars, and university professors during the year.
There were numerous press reports of cyberattacks against foreign websites, foreign journalists, and foreign media organizations that carried information the government deemed objectionable.
Authorities continued to jail numerous internet writers for peaceful expression of political views. In September 2014 Beijing authorities detained 81-year-old writer Tie Liu (pen name Huang Zerong) on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" after he published a critical article about the former director of the CCP Propaganda Department, Liu Yunshan. In February the Qingyang District People's Court in Chengdu sentenced Tie to two-and-a-half years in prison, which was suspended for four years, and fined him 30,000 RMB ($4,620) for "illegal business activities." Tie had spent more than 20 years in political re-education camps as an alleged "rightist."
The State Secrets Law obliges internet companies to cooperate with investigations of suspected leaks of state secrets, stop the transmission of such information once discovered, and report the crime to authorities. Furthermore, the companies must comply with authorities' orders to delete such information from their websites; failure to do so is punishable by relevant departments, such as the police and the Ministry of Public Security.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government continued restrictions on academic and artistic freedom and on political and social discourse at colleges, universities, and research institutes. Restrictive SARFT and Central Propaganda Department regulations and decisions constrained the flow of ideas and persons. In 2013 the South China Morning Post reported that the CCP issued secret instructions to university faculty identifying seven "off-limits" subjects, including universal values, freedom of the press, civil society, civil rights, an independent judiciary, elite cronyism, and the historical errors of the CCP. Some academics self-censored their publications, faced pressure to reach predetermined research results, or were unable to hold conferences with international participants during politically sensitive periods. Foreign academics claimed the government used visa denials, along with blocking access to archives, fieldwork, or interviews, to pressure foreign academics to self-censor their work.
The government's restrictions on academic and artistic freedom and on political and social discourse at colleges, universities, and research institutes increased after the January 29 statement by Minister of Education Yang Guiren warning higher education institutions to maintain political integrity and "never let textbooks promoting Western values appear in our classes." He made these comments at a forum on improving ideological work in universities and colleges, which reflected President Xi's December 2014 call for greater "ideological guidance." Yang also warned teachers against passing negative ideas to their students, including slandering the CCP, and told university officials to strengthen management of textbooks and materials directly taken from Western countries. Peking University's website stated, "Chinese universities are universities with socialist quality, so of course we should stick to socialist education."
In late November Western media reported that under a new proposal of the Ministry of Education, college counselors would be required to be members of the Communist Party.
Censorship and self-censorship of artistic works was common, particularly those artworks deemed to involve politically sensitive subjects.
Authorities on some occasions blocked entry into the country of individuals deemed politically sensitive and frequently refused to issue passports to Chinese citizens selected for international exchange programs who were considered "politically unreliable," singling out Tibetans, Uighurs, and individuals from other minority nationality areas.
A number of other foreign government-sponsored exchange selectees who already had passports, particularly those from minority areas, encountered difficulties gaining approval to travel to participate in their programs.
The government used political attitudes and affiliations as criteria for selecting persons for the few government-sponsored study-abroad programs but did not impose such restrictions on privately sponsored students. The government and the Organization Department of the CCP controlled the appointment of high-level officials at universities. While CCP membership was not always a requirement to obtain a tenured faculty position, scholars without CCP affiliation often had fewer chances for promotion.
Foreign researchers, authors, and academics residing outside the country reported they were subject to sanctions, including denial of visas, from authorities when their work did not meet with official approval. Thirteen foreign academics asserted they were blacklisted and blocked from obtaining visas to travel to China for having contributed scholarly essays to a book on Xinjiang published in 2004. Other scholars were blacklisted or faced difficulties obtaining visas because of work regarding issues the government considered sensitive.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
While the law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government severely restricted this right. The law stipulates that such activities may not challenge "party leadership" or infringe upon the "interests of the state." Protests against the political system or national leaders were prohibited. Authorities denied permits and quickly suppressed demonstrations involving expression of dissenting political views.
The law protects an individual's ability to petition the government, but persons petitioning the government faced restrictions on their rights to assemble and raise grievances (see section 1.d.). Most petitioners sought to present their complaints at national and provincial "letters and calls" offices.
The central government's Bureau of Letters and Calls, which handles petitions filed in Beijing, announced new regulations that took effect on May 1. They require local governments to resolve complaints within 60 days and stipulate that central authorities will no longer accept petitions that have already been handled by local or provincial governments. The regulations also encourage all litigation-related petitions to be handled at the local level through local or provincial courts.
While the central government reiterated prohibitions against blocking or restricting "normal petitioning" and against unlawfully detaining petitioners, retaliation against petitioners continued. This was partly due to incentives the central government provided to local officials to prevent petitioners from raising complaints to higher levels. Such incentives included provincial cadre evaluations based in part on reducing the number of petitions from their provinces reaching Beijing. This initiative aimed to encourage local and provincial officials to resolve legitimate complaints but also resulted in local officials sending security personnel to Beijing and forcibly returning the petitioners to their home provinces to prevent them from filing complaints against local officials with the central government. Such detentions often went unrecorded.
Petitioners faced harassment, illegal detention, and even more severe forms of punishment when attempting to travel to Beijing to present their grievances.
Citizens throughout the country continued to gather publicly to protest evictions, relocations, and inadequate compensation, often resulting in conflict with authorities or other charges (see section 1.f.). Peaceful protesters were frequently met with excessive force by police.
In April authorities in Guangdong detained an unknown number of persons after protesters clashed with police over allegations of official corruption. Riot police fired tear gas at dozens of residents of Mashan village after they occupied a nearby high-speed railway station and forced trains to a temporary halt. Authorities also cut off cell-phone, landline, and internet access to the entire village.
In June authorities in Guangxi held at least 10 persons following clashes with gemstone workers over rezoning of Wuzhou City's industrial area. Approximately 1,000 gemstone workers staged a mass protest against government orders to move workshops to city outskirts, sparking clashes with riot police that left at least two persons in the hospital and 10 in custody.
Police attacked more than 1,000 villagers who gathered outside government offices in Lingshui County, Hainan, in July. Ten persons were detained.
In mid-December, dozens of protesters who gathered outside Beijing's Second Intermediate People's Court for the hearing of rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang were met with force from both plainclothes and uniformed security forces. At least 15 persons were detained. Some were released within 24 hours, but the whereabouts of others remained unknown. On December 22, uniformed police and plainclothes police again detained eight persons who tried to attend Pu's verdict hearing.
Twenty activists were detained while protesting the trial of three rights activists in Guangzhou in July. Tang Jingling, Wang Qingying, and Yuan Xinting stood trial for "incitement to subvert state power" after being held in detention for a year. Individuals attempting to protest outside the courthouse were detained by police.
In January, Su Changlan was detained on state subversion charges reportedly on account of her online expression of support for the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests of fall 2014. Authorities repeatedly denied Su access to her lawyer and family members, according to her lawyer.
All concerts, sports events, exercise classes, or other meetings of more than 200 persons require approval from public security authorities. Although peaceful protests are legal, police rarely granted approval. Despite restrictions there were many demonstrations, but those with broad political or social themes were broken up quickly, sometimes with excessive force. In 2012 the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimated that such mass incidents numbered anywhere from the tens of thousands to more than 100,000 each year.
Large numbers of public gatherings in Beijing and elsewhere were canceled at the last minute or denied government permits, ostensibly under the guise of ensuring public safety. Cancellations during the year included the first Beijing Earth Day Festival, Beijing Craft Beer Festival, Chaoyang Park Music Festival, Strawberry Music Festival, and all live performances scheduled to take place on May 1-3. In addition, several performances by internationally known musicians were canceled at the last minute, apparently because of concerns that performers in the past may have expressed opinions in support of Tibet. Other performances were censored because authorities believed the lyrics were inappropriate. Bon Jovi concerts scheduled for Shanghai and Beijing were cancelled following reports that the band featured images of the Dalai Lama in prior shows in other countries.
Freedom of Association
The law provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. CCP policy and government regulations require that all professional, social, and economic organizations officially register with and receive approval from the government. These regulations prevented the formation of autonomous political, human rights, religious, spiritual, labor, and other organizations that the government believed might challenge its authority in any area.
The government maintained tight controls over civil society organizations. As one example, authorities in Guizhou Province harassed members of the Guizhou Human Rights Forum by, among other things, searching the home of a member, questioning members about their writings, forbidding members from traveling, and subjecting them to intense surveillance to the point that it was difficult for them to meet together.
According to regulations issued by the State Administration for Foreign Exchange, foreign exchange donations to or by domestic institutions must "comply with the laws and regulations ... and shall not go against social morality or damage public interests and the legitimate rights and interests of other citizens." For donations to a domestic organization from a foreign NGO, the regulations require all parties and the banks to approve additional measures prior to processing a transaction. Application of the regulation varied, with some NGOs successfully navigating the requirements, others identifying other options by which to receive funds, and some severely limiting or shutting down operations.
To register, an NGO must find a government agency to serve as its organizational sponsor, have a registered office, and hold a minimum amount of funds. Finding a government sponsor was often very difficult, since the sponsor could be held responsible for the NGO's behavior. Although the National People's Congress in 2013 announced changes that would ease registration requirements for some NGOs, nationwide regulations had not been promulgated. NGO sources reported that the proposed regulations would not apply to organizations primarily focused on advocacy or rights promotion.
Although all registered organizations came under some degree of government control, some NGOs, primarily service oriented, were able to operate with a greater degree of independence. The number of NGOs continued to grow, despite the restrictions and regulations. The government used the term "social organization" to categorize social groups (shehui tuanti), such as trade and professional associations; civil noncommercial units (minban fei qiye danwei), which are the equivalent of nonprofit service providers; and foundations (jijinhui), which included public and private fundraising foundations. The government continued to impose fundraising limits on private foundations.
The government-proposed Foreign NGO Management Law, as drafted, would place NGOs under the supervision of law enforcement and hinder the ability of international NGOs to continue operating under various prohibitive requirements and by introducing possible criminal penalties. The government used the drafting of the law to conduct a nationwide survey of any organization deemed to fall under the broad category of "foreign NGO," which caused numerous organizations to face unannounced investigations of offices, financial accounts, and employee activities. While the draft law had not passed as of December, many members of the international NGO community left the country in advance of its passage, and other civil society groups reported greater harassment based on the proposed draft alone.
According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, by the end of 2014 there were more than 600,000 legally registered social organizations, public institutions, and foundations. Many experts believed the actual number of NGOs to be much higher. NGOs existed under a variety of formal and informal guises, including national mass organizations created and funded by the CCP, known as government-operated NGOs or GONGOs.
NGOs not permitted to legally register faced numerous logistical challenges, including difficulty opening bank accounts and receiving foreign funding, hiring workers, fundraising, and renting office space. NGOs that opted not to partner with government agencies could register as commercial consulting companies, which allowed them to obtain legal recognition at the cost of forgoing tax-free status. Security authorities routinely warned domestic NGOs, regardless of their registration status, not to accept donations from the foreign-funded National Endowment for Democracy and other international organizations deemed sensitive by the government.
Authorities supported the growth of some NGOs that focused on social problems such as poverty alleviation and disaster relief.
Local NGOs that received foreign funding and international NGOs that provided assistance to Tibetan communities in the TAR and other Tibetan areas continued to face a difficult operating environment. Many were forced to curtail their activities altogether due to travel restrictions, official intimidation of staff members, and the failure of local partners to renew project agreements.
No laws or regulations specifically governed the formation of political parties. The Chinese Democracy Party (CDP) remained banned, and the government continued to monitor, detain, and imprison current and former CDP members.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State's Report on International Religious Freedom.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government at times did not respect these rights. While seriously restricting its scope of operations, the government occasionally cooperated with UNHCR, which maintained an office in Beijing, to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
The government increasingly silenced activists by denying them permission to travel, both internationally and domestically, or keeping them under unofficial house arrest.
In-country Movement: Authorities heightened restrictions on freedom of movement, particularly to curtail the movement of individuals deemed politically sensitive before key anniversaries, visits by foreign dignitaries, or major political events, or to forestall demonstrations. Freedom of movement continued to be very limited in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Police maintained checkpoints in most counties and on roads leading into many towns as well as within major cities, such as Lhasa.
Although the government maintained restrictions on the freedom to change one's workplace or residence, the national household registration system (hukou) continued to change, and the ability of most citizens to move within the country to work and live continued to expand. Rural residents continued to migrate to the cities, where the per capita disposable income was approximately three times the rural per capita income, but many could not change their official residence or workplace within the country. Most cities had annual quotas for the number of new temporary residence permits that could be issued, and all workers, including university graduates, had to compete for a limited number of such permits. It was particularly difficult for rural residents to obtain household registration in more economically developed urban areas.
A July 2014 State Council legal opinion removed restrictions on rural migrants seeking household registration in small and mid-sized towns and cities. Under the new regulations, household registrations are based on place of residence and employment instead of place of birth. The opinion exempted cities with large populations. The city of Guangzhou issued a new policy that allows persons who were legally employed within the city to marry and have a child without returning to the hometown listed on their hukou.
The household registration system added to the difficulties rural residents faced, even after they relocated to urban areas and found employment. According to the Statistical Communique of the People's Republic of China on 2013 National Economic and Social Development published by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, 289 million persons lived outside the jurisdiction of their household registration. Of that number, 245 million individuals worked outside their home district. Many migrant workers and their families faced numerous obstacles with regard to working conditions and labor rights. Many were unable to access public services, such as public education or social insurance, in the cities where they lived and worked because they were not legally registered urban residents. Poor treatment and difficulty integrating into local communities contributed to increased unrest among migrant workers in the Pearl River Delta. Migrant workers had little recourse when abused by employers and officials. Some major cities maintained programs to provide migrant workers and their children access to public education and other social services free of charge, but migrants in some locations reported difficulty in obtaining these benefits due to onerous bureaucratic processes.
Under the "staying at prison employment" system applicable to recidivists incarcerated in administrative detention, authorities denied certain persons permission to return to their homes after serving their sentences. Some released or paroled prisoners returned home but did not have freedom of movement.
Foreign Travel: The government permitted legal emigration and foreign travel for most citizens. Some academics and activists continued to face travel restrictions, especially around sensitive anniversaries (see section 1.d.). The government expanded the use of exit controls for departing passengers at airports and other border crossings to deny foreign travel to some dissidents and persons employed in sensitive government posts. Throughout the year many lawyers, artists, authors, and other activists were at times prevented from exiting the country. Authorities also blocked travel of some family members of rights activists.
Border officials and police cited threats to "national security" as the reason for refusing permission to leave the country. Authorities stopped most such persons at the airport at the time of their attempted travel. In August Liang Xiaojun as well as his wife and eight-year-old son were not allowed past exit controls at Beijing International Airport. They were en route to New York where Liang was to study for a semester at Columbia University. Public Security officials told Liang he could not leave because it might "endanger national security." Liang was a founding member of the group China against the Death Penalty. In December authorities blocked author Wang Lixiong, a long-time supporter of civil rights for Tibetans, from traveling to Taiwan.
While many activists reported being blocked from traveling abroad, artist Ai Weiwei was allowed to travel overseas for the first time in five years.
Most citizens could obtain passports, although those individuals the government deemed potential threats, including religious leaders, political dissidents, petitioners, and ethnic minorities, reported routinely being refused passports or otherwise prevented from traveling overseas.
Twenty-one-year-old Liu Yuyang was denied a passport to go overseas for graduate school. Liu's father was the prominent rights attorney Liu Xiaoyuan.
Uighurs, particularly those residing in the XUAR, reported great difficulty in getting passport applications approved at the local level. They were frequently denied passports to travel abroad, particularly to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, other Muslim countries, or Western countries for academic purposes. Authorities reportedly seized valid passports of some XUAR residents. Family members of Uighur activists living overseas were also denied visas to enter China.
In the TAR and Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan provinces, Tibetans experienced great difficulty acquiring passports. The unwillingness of Chinese authorities in Tibetan areas to issue or renew passports for Tibetans created, in effect, a ban on foreign travel for a large segment of the Tibetan population. Han residents of Tibetan areas did not experience the same difficulties.
Exile: The law neither provides for a citizen's right to repatriate nor addresses exile. The government continued to refuse re-entry to numerous citizens considered dissidents, Falun Gong activists, or "troublemakers." Although authorities allowed some dissidents living abroad to return, dissidents released on medical parole and allowed to leave the country often were effectively exiled.
Emigration and Repatriation: The government continued to try to prevent many Tibetans and Uighurs from leaving the country and detained many who were apprehended in flight (see Tibet Annex). Some family members of rights activists who tried to emigrate were unable to do so. In July Bao Zhuoxuan, the 16-year-old son of disappeared legal advocates Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, was detained at the airport on his way to Australia to study. Authorities released him after several days but repeatedly pressured him to stay quiet. In the fall, with the help of two activists, he fled to Burma, where he was detained by authorities . He reappeared a week later at his grandparent's home in Inner Mongolia, where he remained under house arrest. He has never been convicted or accused of a crime.
Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of refugee or asylee status. The government did not have a system for providing protection to refugees but did allow UNHCR to assist the relatively small number of non-North Korean and non-Burmese refugees. The government did not officially recognize these individuals as refugees; they remained in the country as illegal immigrants unable to work, with no access to education, and subject to deportation at any time.
Authorities continued to forcibly repatriate some North Korean refugees by treating them as illegal economic migrants, despite reports some North Korean female refugees in China were trafficking victims, although there were no specific reports of such refugees during the year. The government detained and deported such refugees to North Korea, where they possibly faced severe punishment, even death, including in North Korean forced-labor camps. The government did not provide North Korean trafficking victims with legal alternatives to repatriation. The government continued to bar UNHCR access to North Koreans in northeast China, and the lack of access to UNHCR assistance and forced repatriation left North Koreans vulnerable to traffickers. Authorities sometimes detained and prosecuted citizens who assisted North Korean refugees and trafficking victims as well as those who facilitated illegal border crossings.
In some instances the government pressured neighboring countries to return asylum seekers or UNHCR-recognized refugees to China. In July Thailand forcibly returned 109 Uighers who likely faced persecution upon their return. In November Thailand returned activists Jiang Yefei and Dong Guangping, both of whom had been granted refugee status by UNHCR and were scheduled for resettlement to Canada. Their whereabouts were unknown as of the end of the year.
Refoulement: The government did not provide protection against the expulsion or forcible return of vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, especially North Korean and Kachin refugees. The government continued to consider all North Koreans as"economic migrants" rather than refugees or asylum seekers and forcibly returned many of them to North Korea. The government continued to prevent UNHCR from having access to North Korean or Burmese refugees. Reports of various exploitation schemes targeting North Korean refugees, such as forced marriages, forced labor, and prostitution, were common. The government continued to deny UNHCR permission to operate along its borders with Burma. It denied UN officials all access to the Kokang refugees living in or near Nansan, Yunnan Province, and barred all outsiders from accessing the area.
Refugee Abuse: There were reports that North Korean agents operated clandestinely within the country to forcibly repatriate North Korean citizens. According to press reports, some North Koreans detained by police faced repatriation unless they could pay bribes to secure their release.
Access to Basic Services: North Korean asylum seekers and North Koreans in China seeking economic opportunities generally did not have access to health care, public education, or other social services due to lack of legal status.
Durable Solutions: The government largely cooperated with UNHCR when dealing with the resettlement in China of ethnic Han Chinese or ethnic minorities from Vietnam and Laos living in the country since the Vietnam War era. The government and UNHCR continued discussions concerning the granting of citizenship to these long-term residents and their children, many of whom were born in China. The government worked with UNHCR in granting exit permission for a small number of non-Burmese and non-North Korean refugees to resettle to third countries.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution states that "all power in the People's Republic of China belongs to the people" and that the organs through which the people exercise state power are the National People's Congress (NPC) and the people's congresses at provincial, district, and local levels. While the law provides for elections of people's congress delegates at the county level and below, citizens could not freely choose the officials who governed them. In practice the CCP controlled virtually all elections and continued to control appointments to positions of political power.
In May the NPC Hong Kong Special Administrative Basic Law Committee ruled out any possibility of amending a framework for implementing universal suffrage for the 2017 election of Hong Kong's chief executive. The framework, which the NPC Standing Committee had approved in 2014, states that between two and three candidates may be nominated with the approval of more than 50 percent of a nominating committee formed in accordance with the size, composition, and formation method of the 1,200 person Election Committee. Prodemocracy activists in Hong Kong criticized the framework as undemocratic and designed to ensure that only pro-Beijing candidates were nominated by a predominantly unelected, pro-Beijing nominating committee.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In 2013 the NPC's nearly 3,000 deputies elected the president and vice president, the premier and vice premiers, and the chairman of the Central Military Commission. The NPC Standing Committee, which consisted of 175 members, oversaw these elections and determined the agenda and procedures for the NPC.
The NPC Standing Committee remained under the direct authority of the CCP, and all important legislative decisions required the concurrence of the CCP's seven-member Politburo Standing Committee. Despite its broad authority under the state constitution, the NPC did not set policy independently or remove political leaders without the CCP's approval.
According to Ministry of Civil Affairs' statistics, almost all of the country's more than 600,000 villages had implemented direct elections for members of local subgovernmental organizations known as village committees. The direct election of officials by ordinary citizens remained narrow in scope and strictly confined to the local level. The government estimated that serious procedural flaws marred one-third of all elections. Corruption, vote buying, and interference by township-level and CCP officials continued to be problems. The law permits each voter to cast proxy votes for up to three other voters.
The election law governs legislative bodies at all levels, although compliance and enforcement varied across the country. Under this law citizens have the opportunity every five years to vote for local people's congress representatives at the county level and below, although in most cases higher-level government officials or CCP cadres controlled the nomination of candidates. At higher levels legislators selected people's congress delegates from among their ranks. For example, provincial-level people's congresses selected delegates to the NPC. Local CCP secretaries generally served concurrently within the leadership team of the local people's congress, thus strengthening CCP control over legislatures.
On March 15, the NPC passed a revised Legislation Law that expanded the number of municipal-level people's congresses with powers to make local laws, devolving certain legislative powers from the provincial to the municipal level. On August 29, the NPC also passed amendments to three laws regarding the organization, election, and staffing of township and county-level people's congresses. The amendments to the Organization Law for Local People's Congresses and Local Governments give township-level people's congress presidiums, or executive committees, new powers to review government work reports, inspect law enforcement, and collect public suggestions and criticism for action by relevant agencies. It also allows county-level people's congresses to increase the membership of their standing committees and establish new committees for economic, financial, and legal affairs. The revised People's Congress Election Law prohibits citizens from running for office with campaign funding from foreign organizations or individuals. Those who accept foreign funding will have their candidacy annulled or position removed.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Official statements asserted that "the political party system [that] China has adopted is multiparty cooperation and political consultation" under CCP leadership. The CCP, however, retained a monopoly on political power, and the government forbade the creation of new political parties. The government officially recognized nine parties founded prior to 1949, and parties other than the CCP held 30 percent of the seats in the NPC. These non-CCP members did not function as a political opposition. They exercised very little influence on legislation or policy making and were allowed to operate only under the direction of the CCP United Front Work Department. Activists attempting to create or support unofficial parties were arrested, detained, or confined.
Participation of Women and Minorities: While the government placed no special restrictions on the participation of women or minority groups in the political process, women held few positions of significant influence in the CCP or government structure. Among the 2,987 delegates of the 12th NPC (term 2013-18), 699 (23.4 percent) were women. Following the 18th Party Congress in 2013, two women were members of the CCP's 25-member Politburo. There were no women in the Politburo Standing Committee.
The election law provides a general mandate for quotas for female and ethnic minority representatives, but achieving these quotas often required election authorities to violate the election law.
A total of 409 delegates from 55 ethnic minorities were members of the 12th NPC, accounting for 13.7 percent of the total number of delegates. All of the country's officially recognized minority groups were represented. The 18th Communist Party Congress in 2013 elected 10 members of ethnic minority groups as members of the 205-person Central Committee.
There was no ethnic minority member of the Politburo. In 2013 Yang Jing, a Mongol from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region who served in the secretariat of the CCP Central Committee, also assumed office as the secretary general of the State Council. Yang was the first official to hold the two positions at the same time as well as the first ethnic minority official to become the secretary general of the State Council. He also ranked first among the five state councilors. In August 2014 in Jilin, a Mongol became the first ethnic minority member to serve as a provincial party secretary.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
Although officials faced criminal penalties for corruption, the government did not implement the law consistently or transparently. Corruption remained rampant, and many cases of corruption involved areas heavily regulated by the government, such as land-usage rights, real estate, mining, and infrastructure development, which were susceptible to fraud, bribery, and kickbacks. Court judgments often could not be enforced against powerful special entities, including government departments, state-owned enterprises, military personnel, and some members of the CCP.
In January the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the CCP's leading body for countering corruption among members, reported that in 2014 it had received more than 2.72 million allegations of corruption, investigated 226,000 corruption-related cases, and disciplined 232,000 officials, 27 percent more than in 2013. Among those investigated, 68 senior officials at the vice-ministerial level or above in the CCP, government, and state-owned enterprises were eventually removed from their posts. In addition, 71,748 officials were punished for violating one or more of the "eight rules" that serve as the mandate for the anticorruption campaign, 35 percent more than 2013. In 2014 a total of 500 officials who had fled abroad with illicit funds, reportedly involving three billion RMB ($462 million), were apprehended. In April the Supreme People's Procuratorate reported that, in the first quarter, prosecutors nationwide had investigated more than 9,636 individuals and 7,556 cases for bribery and embezzlement. There were 6,649 "major cases" – bribery cases exceeding 50,000 RMB ($7,700) and embezzlement cases exceeding 100,000 RMB ($15,400).
The "shuanggui" system – the CCP internal disciplinary system used to investigate party members suspected of corruption and other violations of party rules – continued to operate without legal oversight and with allegations of torture. Many officials accused of corruption or other discipline violations were interrogated and in some cases tortured in the shuanggui system, often to extract a confession of wrongdoing, and some are later turned over to the judicial system.
The law makes citizens and companies paying bribes to foreign government officials and officials of international public organizations subject to criminal punishments of up to 10 years' imprisonment and a fine. On August 29, the NPC adopted an amendment to the criminal law that rules out commutation or release on parole for those who committed serious crimes of embezzlement.
Corruption: In numerous cases public officials and leaders of state-owned enterprises, who generally held high CCP ranks, were investigated for corruption. In March Procurator-General Cao Jianming reported to the 12th National People's Congress that in 2014 the government investigated 4,040 public servants above the county level for corruption, including 28 at the provincial and ministerial levels or above, in 3,664 cases of graft, bribery, and embezzlement of public funds, each involving more than one million RMB ($154,000). While the tightly controlled state media apparatus publicized some notable corruption investigations, as a general matter there were very few details regarding the process by which party and government officials were investigated for corruption.
On June 11, a court sentenced Zhou Yongkang, a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee and chief of the internal security apparatus, to life in prison for extorting 129 million RMB ($19.9 million), abuse of power, and "intentionally disclosing national secrets." He was the most senior CCP and government official ever to face corruption charges.
In November the Panjin Muncipal Intermediate Court in Liaoning Province upheld a sentence of 12 years' imprisonment for environmentalist Tian Jiguang on charges of "extortion" and "embezzlement." Tian, a CCP member whose father and brother had held senior positions in local government, founded an environmental NGO that focused on protecting endangered spotted seals. According to media reports citing the indictment and other sources, Tian's arrest resulted from a blog post in 2013 that exposed a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation for pollution.
In some cases local party officials who tried to report corruption faced reprisal and retribution. On April 2, masked men in Heilongjiang Province beat former Qing'an Discipline and Inspection Department cadre Fan Jiadong following his return from Beijing, where he had reported corruption on the part of local leaders. He died from his injuries on May 1. According to news reports, the suspects arrested in the case were related to real estate developers with close ties to local government officials.
Financial Disclosure: A 2010 regulation requires officials in government agencies or state-owned enterprises at the county level or above to report their ownership of property, including that in their spouse's or children's names, as well as their families' investments in financial assets and enterprises. The regulations do not require that declarations be made public. Instead, they are to go to a higher administrative level and a human resource department. Punishments for not declaring information vary from training on the regulations, warning talks, and adjusting one's work position to being relieved of one's position. Regulations further state that officials should report all income, including allowances, subsidies, and bonuses as well as income from other jobs such as giving lectures, writing, consulting, reviewing articles, painting, and calligraphy. Officials, their spouses, and the children who live with them also should report their real estate properties and financial investments. They must report whether their children live abroad as well as the work status of their children and grandchildren (including those who live abroad). Officials are required to file reports annually and must report changes of personal status within 30 days.
In May Shanghai Municipality announced a ban on family members of local officials' starting businesses in the city.
Public Access to Information: Open-government information regulations allow citizens to request information from the government. The regulations require government authorities to create formal channels for information requests and to include an appeals process if requests are rejected or not answered. They stipulate that administrative agencies should reply to requests immediately to the extent possible. Otherwise, the administrative agency should provide the information within 15 working days, with the possibility of a maximum extension of an additional 15 days. In cases in which third-party rights and interests are involved, the time needed to consult the third party does not count against the time limits. According to the regulations, administrative agencies may collect only cost-based fees (as determined by the State Council) for searching, photocopying, postage, and similar expenses when disclosing government information on request. Citizens requesting information may also apply for a fee reduction or exemption. The regulations include exceptions for state secrets, commercial secrets, and individual privacy.
Publicly released provincial- and national-level statistics for open-government information requests showed wide disparities across localities, levels of government, and departments regarding numbers of requests filed and official documents released in response.
If information requesters believed that an administrative agency violated the regulations, they could report it to the next higher-level administrative agency, the supervision agency, or the department in charge of open-government information.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The government sought to maintain control over civil society groups, halt the emergence of independent NGOs, hinder the activities of civil society and rights' activist groups, and prevent what it called the "westernization" of the country. The government harassed independent domestic NGOs and did not permit them to openly monitor or comment on human rights conditions. The government tended to be suspicious of independent organizations and scrutinized NGOs with financial and other links overseas. Most large NGOs were quasi-governmental, and government agencies had to sponsor all official NGOs.
An informal network of activists around the country continued to serve as a credible source of information about human rights violations. The information was disseminated through organizations such as the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, the foreign-based Human Rights in China, and Chinese Human Rights Defenders, and via the internet.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Representatives of some international human rights organizations reported that authorities denied their visa requests or restricted the length of visas issued to them. The government often refused requests of international organizations to conduct investigation of abuses by refusing representatives' requests to visit suspects detained in undisclosed locations. The government continued to participate in official diplomatic human rights dialogues with foreign governments, although several governments encountered problems from the authorities, including stalling tactics such as repeated delays in setting dates, not sending delegation lists, and refusing to release agendas or set meetings until the last minute. Other countries found their requests to schedule a human rights dialogue continually postponed. The government remained reluctant to accept criticism of its human rights record by other nations or international organizations. It criticized reports by international human rights monitoring groups, claiming that such reports were inaccurate and interfered with the country's internal affairs.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The government did not have a human rights ombudsman or commission. The government maintained that each country's economic, social, cultural, and historical conditions determined its approach to human rights. The government claimed that its treatment of suspects, considered to be victims of human rights abuses by the international community, was in accordance with national law.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
While there were laws designed to protect women, children, persons with disabilities, and minorities, some discrimination based on ethnicity, sex, disability, and other factors persisted.
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, and some persons convicted of rape were executed. The penalties for rape ranges from three years in prison to a death sentence. The law does not address spousal rape. Migrant female workers were particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. In September the government released a report stating that public security organs uncovered 25,852 cases of rape in 2013, the most recent year for which statistics were available, but otherwise did not make available official statistics on rape or sexual assault, leaving the scale of sexual violence difficult to determine. The government, however, acknowledged the need to include the reporting of rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and other gender-related cases in annual judicial statistics.
Violence against women remained a significant problem. According to reports, at least one-quarter of families suffered from domestic violence, and more than 85 percent of the victims were women. In a 2013 UN report on domestic violence, 51.3 percent of male respondents admitted to having perpetrated physical or sexual partner violence. Another survey indicated that at least 40 percent of women, either married or in a relationship, had experienced physical or sexual abuse. Only 7 percent of women surveyed reported cases of domestic violence to the police, according to the 2014 All China Women's Federation (ACWF) survey. A 2013 ACWF study noted that almost 30 percent of victims who did not report abuse believed that domestic violence should be kept a private matter. A broadly held societal belief was that spousal abuse was acceptable, according to a World Values Survey released in 2015. This led to underreporting, with only 50,000 cases of domestic violence registered each year, on average.
Domestic violence against women included verbal and psychological abuse, restrictions on personal freedom, economic control, physical violence, and rape. The government supported shelters for victims of domestic violence, and some courts provided protections to victims, including through restraining orders prohibiting a perpetrator of domestic violence from coming near a victim. Nonetheless, official assistance did not always reach victims, and public security forces often ignored domestic violence. Legal aid institutions worked to provide counseling and defense to victims of domestic violence. In 2014 more than 3,700 legal aid institutions were established, providing aid to 352,000 women. In spite of this, many legal aid institutions reported harassment from public security authorities. Organizations working to defend victims of domestic violence were often pressured to suspend public activities and cease all forms of policy advocacy, an area that was reserved only for government-sponsored organizations.
While domestic violence tended to be more prevalent in rural areas, it also occurred among the highly educated urban population. The ACWF reported that approximately one-quarter of the 400,000 divorces registered each year were the result of family violence.
Reports also indicated that many domestic violence shelters providing services to victims were primarily attached to homeless shelters, hindering their ability to treat victims. Many domestic violence shelters had inadequate facilities, required extensive documentation, or went unused. The government operated most shelters, some with NGO participation. In 2012 the government provided 680,000 office spaces in government buildings for women's resource centers.
On December 27, the NPC passed the country's first national law on domestic violence, the Family Violence Law, which provides stronger legal mechanisms to protect women from domestic abuse. The law defines domestic violence as physical and mental violence between family members. A provision was also added to include cohabitating couples. Some experts, however, complained that the law is too general and fails to include other types of violence, including sexual and economic violence, and does not protect same-sex couples. Experts also expressed concern that the general language of the law could inhibit effective implementation and enforcement of the law.
According to women's rights activists, a reoccurring problem in the prosecution of domestic violence cases was a lack of evidence – including photographs, hospital records, police records, or children's testimony – which hindered the prosecution of domestic violence cases. Witnesses seldom testified in court.
Courts' recognition of domestic violence improved, making spousal abuse a mitigating factor in crimes committed in self-defense. In March the SPC issued guidelines for dealing with cases of domestic violence to improve the unified application of laws, according to the Information Office of the State Council. In April the Sichuan People's Court suspended for two years the death sentence of a women who had murdered her husband, with the court acknowledging for the first time that she had been the victim of domestic violence.
Public support increased in the fight against domestic violence. A 2013 survey found that more than 85 percent of respondents believed further antidomestic violence legislation was needed. A high-profile 2013 case set a precedent when the court acknowledged domestic violence as grounds for divorce, granted a protection order, and ordered the former husband to pay compensation for the violence his former spouse had endured during their marriage.
Sexual Harassment: The law bans sexual harassment; offenders are subject to a penalty of up to 15 days in detention, according to the Beijing Public Security Bureau. A 2013 NGO survey of female manufacturing workers in Guangzhou indicated that as many as 70 percent of Guangzhou's female workforce had been sexually harassed. Approximately one-half of respondents did not pursue legal or administrative actions, while 15 percent reported leaving the workplace to escape their harasser.
Sexual harassment was not limited to the workplace. According to a 2013 China Youth Daily survey, approximately 14 percent of women had been sexually harassed while riding the subway, and 82 percent of those polled believed the problem existed.
According to information on the ACWF website, the internet and hotlines made it easier for women who were sexually harassed to obtain useful information and legal service. A Beijing rights lawyer told the ACWF that approximately 100 to 200 million women in the country had suffered or were suffering sexual harassment in the workplace but that very few legal service centers provided counseling.
While the ACWF and universities worked to improve awareness on sexual harassment by offering seminars and classes, NGOs that sought to increase public awareness on sexual harassment came under increasing scrutiny. This scrutiny was best exemplified by the March arrest of the Beijing five feminists, who planned to mark International Women's Day through a public outreach campaign against sexual harassment on public transportation. At least 10 Chinese campaigners for gender equality were detained by police in Beijing, Hangzhou, and Guangzhou before the event took place. Although they were released from detention in April, the charges against the five women – Li Tingting, Wu Rongrong, Zheng Churan, Wei Tingting, and Wang Man – remained in place at year's end.
Reproductive Rights: The government restricted the rights of parents to choose the number of children they have. In 2013 the government revised the national population and family planning policy (the so-called one-child policy) to allow families to have two children when at least one parent was a single child (see further description below). In October the CCP proposed the limit be raised to two children per family. The two-child policy was scheduled to be officially implemented as of January 1, 2016.
For all children, parents were required to obtain an official birth approval form to register the child for the "hukou" residence permit (needed to enroll in school) or for other official documents. The hukou is an essential identity document for normal life in China. Most parents obtain the birth approval form before or during pregnancy, but it is possible to apply for and receive the form after the birth. For that reason, the presence or absence of an official birth approval does not affect health services during pregnancy, i.e., hospitals do not require the form before providing prenatal care. It is only when registering for the hukou that the birth permission is mandatory, and it is at that point that the birth-limitation policies take effect.
Intense pressure to meet birth-limitation targets set by government regulations resulted in instances of local family-planning officials using physical coercion to meet government goals. Such practices included the mandatory use of birth control and the forced abortion of unauthorized pregnancies. In the case of families that already had two children, one parent was often required to undergo sterilization.
The country's birth-limitation policies retained harshly coercive elements in law and practice. The financial and administrative penalties for unauthorized births were strict. The law requires each parent of an unapproved child to pay a "social compensation fee" that could reach 10 times a person's annual disposable income. To avoid these fines, some parents sought to hide an unapproved child with friends or relatives.
The National Health and Family Planning Commission announced it would continue to charge "social compensation fees" for family-planning policy violations. Social compensation fees were set and assessed at the local level. The law requires family-planning officials to obtain court approval before taking "forcible" action, such as detaining family members or confiscating and destroying property of families who refuse to pay social compensation fees. This requirement was not always followed.
Enforcement of the population control policy relied on education, propaganda, and economic incentives as well as on more coercive measures. Those who had an unapproved child or helped another to do so faced disciplinary measures, such as having to pay social compensation fees, job loss or demotion, loss of promotion opportunity, expulsion from the CCP (membership is an unofficial requirement for certain jobs), and other administrative punishments, including in some cases the destruction of private property. For example, in September a woman in Yunnan Province complained on social media that local officials threatened to terminate her husband from his job as a police officer if she refused to abort their second child, with whom she was eight months' pregnant.
It continued to be illegal in almost all provinces for a single woman to have a child, with fines levied for violations. The law mandates that family-planning bureaus conduct pregnancy tests on married women and provide them with unspecified "follow-up" services. Some provinces fined women who did not undergo periodic state-mandated pregnancy tests.
Officials at all levels could receive rewards or penalties based on whether or not they met the population goals set by their administrative region. Promotions for local officials depended in part on meeting population targets. Linking job promotion with an official's ability to meet or exceed population targets provided a powerful structural incentive for officials to employ coercive measures to meet population goals. An administrative reform process initiated pilot programs in some localities that removed this criterion for evaluating officials' performance.
Although the family-planning law states that officials should not violate citizens' "lawful rights" in the enforcement of family-planning policy, these rights, as well as penalties for violating them, were not clearly defined. By law citizens may sue officials who exceed their authority in implementing birth-planning policy, but few protections existed for whistleblowers against retaliation from local officials. The law provides significant and detailed sanctions for officials who helped persons evade the birth limitations.
The National Health Population and Family Planning Commission reported that 13 million women annually terminated unplanned pregnancies. An official news media outlet also reported at least an additional 10 million chemically induced abortions were performed in nongovernment facilities. Government statistics on the percentage of all abortions that were nonelective was not available.
The country's fertility rate was far below replacement level, in part due to more than three decades of coercive population control policies and in part due to economic and social factors. According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the average fertility rate for women nationwide was 1.6, and in the country's most populous and prosperous city, Shanghai, the fertility rate was 0.8.
National family-planning authorities were gradually shifting emphasis from lowering fertility rates to emphasizing quality of care in family-planning practices. UNFPA reported that 87 percent of married couples used contraception but that contraception use was significantly lower in unmarried relationships. As a direct result, approximately half of abortions occurred among 15- to 24-year-old women. Among married couples, 72 percent used a reversible method of contraception. Only 1.2 percent of women took oral contraceptives. A 2013 survey published by the China World Contraception Day Organization showed that more than 68 percent of women were confused about contraceptive methods.
The national population and family-planning law standardized the implementation of the government's birth-limitation policies, but it left considerable discretion to provincial authorities to determine enforcement measures, which varied significantly. The law grants married couples the right to have one birth and allows couples to apply for permission to have a second child if they meet conditions stipulated in local and provincial regulations.
During the year the policy allowing couples to have two children when at least one spouse is an only child remained in place. Implementing regulations for the amended policy were adopted on a province-by-province basis. The birth limit was more strictly applied in urban areas. In most rural areas, couples were permitted to have a second child in cases where their first child was a girl. Ethnic minorities were subject to less stringent rules. In 2013, 35 percent of families nationwide fell under the one-child restrictions, and more than 60 percent of families were eligible to have a second child, either outright or if they met certain criteria. The remaining 5 percent were eligible to have more than two children.
The National Population and Family Planning Commission reported that all provinces eliminated the birth-approval requirement before a first child was conceived, but provinces could still continue to require parents to register pregnancies prior to giving birth to their first child. This registration requirement could be used as a de facto permit system in some provinces, since some local governments continued to mandate abortion for single women who became pregnant. Provinces and localities imposed fines of various amounts on unwed mothers and forced some to have abortions.
Regulations requiring women who violate the family-planning policy to terminate their pregnancies still existed and were enforced in Anhui, Hebei, Hubei, Hunan, Jilin, Ningxia, Liaoning, and Heilongjiang provinces. Ten other provinces – Fujian, Guizhou, Guangdong, Gansu, Jiangxi, Qinghai, Sichuan, Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Yunnan – require "remedial measures," an official euphemism for abortion, to deal with unauthorized pregnancies. In the 13 remaining provinces where provincial regulations do not explicitly require termination of pregnancy or remedial measures, some local officials still coerced abortions to meet birth limitation quotas. For example, the Qingjiang Township CCP Committee and the government in Yueqing City, Wenzhou Municipality, issued a circular to local officials in July that called on them to launch a 15-day "second pregnancy examination" campaign and to adopt remedial measures for unauthorized pregnancies. A number of online media reports indicated that migrant women applying for household registration in Guangzhou were required to have an intrauterine contraceptive device implanted. In localities with large populations of migrant workers, officials specifically targeted migrant women to ensure that they did not exceed birth limitations. For example, the Pudong New District government in Shanghai Municipality issued a directive in May requiring officials to "promptly mobilize and adopt remedial measures" when unauthorized pregnancies were discovered among migrant women.
Discrimination: The constitution states that "women enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres of life." The law provides for equality in ownership of property, inheritance rights, access to education, and equal pay for equal work. Many activists and observers expressed concern that discrimination was increasing. Women continued to report that discrimination, sexual harassment, unfair dismissal, demotion, and wage discrepancies were significant problems.
Authorities often did not enforce laws protecting the rights of women. According to legal experts, it was difficult to litigate sex-discrimination suits because of vague legal definitions. Some observers noted that the agencies tasked with protecting women's rights tended to focus on maternity-related benefits and wrongful termination during maternity leave rather than on sex discrimination, violence against women, and sexual harassment.
Despite government policies mandating nondiscrimination in employment and remuneration, such discrimination occurred (see section 7.d.).
Women's rights advocates indicated that in rural areas women often forfeited land and property rights to their husbands in divorce proceedings. Rural contract law and laws protecting women's rights stipulate that women enjoy equal rights in cases of land management, but experts asserted that this was rarely the case due to the complexity of the law and difficulties in its implementation. A 2011 Supreme People's Court decision exacerbated the gender wealth gap by stating that after divorce marital property belongs solely to the person registered as the homeowner in mortgage and registration documents – in most cases the husband. In determining child custody in divorce cases, judges made determinations based on the following guidelines: Children under age two should live with their mothers, custody of children two to nine years of age should be determined by who could provide the most stable living arrangement, and children 10 and over should be consulted when determining custody.
Female suicide rates in rural areas dropped signficantly. According to the Chinese Center for Disease and Control and Prevention, female suicide rates from 1990 to 2013 dropped between 36 percent and 81 percent, depending on the area. Researchers attributed the decrease to greater work opportunities for rural women and reduced access to the toxic pesticides used for suicide. A June report in The Economist estimated that the overall suicide rate, while still high, began to decline as populations moved from rural areas into cities.
Women faced discrimination in higher education. The required score for the National Higher Entrance Examination was lower for men than for women at several universities, but undergraduate and postgraduate enrollment levels for men and women were approximately the same. Women with advanced degrees, however, reported discrimination in the hiring process, since the job distribution system became more competitive and market driven.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the the World Bank, in 2013 the gender ratio at birth was 116 males to 100 females. This was a decline from 2010, when the ratio was 118 males for every 100 females. Sex identification and sex-selective abortion are prohibited, but the practices continued because of traditional preference for male children and the birth-limitation policy.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from parents. Parents must register their children in compliance with the national household registration system within one month of birth. Unregistered children could not access public services, including education. No data was available on the number of unregistered births. In 2010 the official census estimated there were 13 million people without official documentation – many of whom likely were "ghost" children whose births were concealed from local officials because they violated the population control policy. Some local officials denied such children household registration and identification documents, particularly if their families could not pay the social compensation fees.
Education: Although the law provides for nine years of compulsory education for children, many children did not attend school for the required period in economically disadvantaged rural areas, and some never attended. Although public schools were not allowed to charge tuition, many schools continued to charge miscellaneous fees because they received insufficient local and central government funding. Such fees and other school-related expenses made it difficult for poorer families and some migrant workers to send their children to school.
In rural areas 61 percent of boys and 43 percent of girls completed education at a grade higher than lower middle school. The government reported that nearly 20 million children of migrant laborers followed their parents to urban areas. Denied access to state-run schools, most children of migrant workers who attended school did so at unlicensed and poorly equipped schools.
Child Abuse: The physical abuse of children was grounds for criminal prosecution. Kidnapping, buying, and selling children for adoption reportedly increased, particularly in poor rural areas, but there were no reliable estimates of the number of children kidnapped. Government authorities regularly estimated that fewer than 10,000 children were abducted per year. Media reports and experts sources noted, however, that as many as 70,000 may be kidnapped every year. Most children kidnapped internally were sold to couples unable to have children. Those convicted of buying an abducted child could be sentenced to three years' imprisonment. In the past most children abducted were boys, but increased demand for children reportedly drove traffickers to focus on girls as well. In an effort to reunite families, the Ministry of Public Security maintained a DNA database of parents of missing children and of children recovered in law enforcement operations.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 22 for men and 20 for women. Child marriage was not known to be a problem, but there were reports of babies sold to be future brides. In such cases families would adopt and raise babies for eventual marriage to their sons.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Persons who forced girls under age 14 into prostitution could be sentenced to seven years to life in prison in addition to a fine or confiscation of property. In especially serious cases, violators could receive a life sentence or death sentence, in addition to confiscation of property. Those who visited female prostitutes under age 14 were subject to five years or more in prison in addition to paying a fine.
The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 14.
Pornography of any kind, including child pornography, is illegal. Under the criminal code, those producing, reproducing, publishing, selling, or disseminating obscene materials with the purpose of making a profit could be sentenced up to three years in prison or put under criminal detention or surveillance in addition to paying a fine. Offenders in serious cases could receive prison sentences of three to 10 years in addition to paying a fine. In especially serious cases, offenders were to be sentenced to 10 years or more in prison or given a life sentence in addition to a fine or confiscation of property. Persons found disseminating obscene books, magazines, films, audio or video products, pictures, or other kinds of obscene materials, if the case was serious, could be sentenced up to two years in prison or put under criminal detention or surveillance. Persons organizing the broadcast of obscene motion pictures or other audio or video products could be sentenced up to three years in prison or put under criminal detention or surveillance in addition to paying a fine. The sentence for serious cases is three to 10 years in prison in addition to a fine.
Persons broadcasting or showing obscene materials to minors under the age of 18 are to be "severely punished."
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law forbids infanticide, but there was evidence that the practice continued. According to the National Population and Family Planning Commission, a handful of doctors were charged with infanticide under this law. Female infanticide, gender-biased abortions, and the abandonment and neglect of baby girls remained problems due to the traditional preference for sons and the birth-limitation policy.
Displaced Children: There were between 150,000 and one million urban street children, according to state media. This number was even higher if the children of migrant workers who spent the day on the streets were included. In 2010 the ACWF estimated that 40 million children under the age of 14 were left behind by their migrant-worker parents in rural areas.
Institutionalized Children: The law forbids the mistreatment or abandonment of children. The vast majority of children in orphanages were girls, many of whom were abandoned. Boys in orphanages usually had disabilities or were in poor health. Medical professionals sometimes advised parents of children with disabilities to put the children into orphanages.
The government denied that children in orphanages were mistreated or refused medical care but acknowledged that the system often was unable to provide adequately for some children, particularly those with serious medical problems. Adopted children were counted under the birth-limitation regulations in most locations. As a result, couples who adopted abandoned infant girls were sometimes barred from having additional children.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For country-specific information, see the Department of State's report at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/country/china.html.
There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year. The government does not recognize Judaism as an ethnicity or religion. According to information from the Jewish Virtual Library, the country's Jewish population was 2,500 in 2012.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State's Trafficking in Persons Report.
Persons with Disabilities
The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities and prohibits discrimination, but conditions for such persons lagged far behind legal dictates and failed to provide persons with disabilities access to programs intended to assist them.
According to the law, persons with disabilities "are entitled to enjoyment of equal rights as other citizens in political, economic, cultural, and social fields, in family life, and in other aspects." Discrimination against, insult of, and infringement upon persons with disabilities is prohibited.
The Ministry of Civil Affairs and the China Disabled Persons Federation (CDPF), a government-organized civil association, are the main entities responsible for persons with disabilities. Government documents published during the year cited statistics of 85 million people with disabilities nationwide. According to 2014 government statistics, there were 6,154 vocational training institutions that trained 382,000 persons with disabilities. More than four million persons with disabilities were employed in urban areas, while more than 17 million were employed in rural areas, primarily in agriculture. Government statistics also stated that as of 2013, 6.28 million persons with disabilities received a "minimum subsistence allowance," and that more than 20 million participated in urban and rural insurance programs.
The law prohibits discrimination against minors with disabilities and codifies a variety of judicial protections for juveniles. In 2012 the Ministry of Education reported that there were 1,853 schools for children with disabilities nationwide. According to NGOs there were approximately 20 million children with disabilities, only 2 percent of whom had access to education that met their needs.
According to the CDPF, in 2013 a total of 78,174 children with disabilities remained outside the state education system, an estimated 28 percent of the total number of the school-age children with disabilities.
Nearly 100,000 organizations existed, mostly in urban areas, to serve those with disabilities and protect their legal rights. The government, at times in conjunction with NGOs, sponsored programs to integrate persons with disabilities into society.
Misdiagnosis, inadequate medical care, stigmatization, and abandonment remained common problems. According to reports, doctors frequently persuaded parents of children with disabilities to place their children in large government-run institutions where care was often inadequate. Those parents who chose to keep children with disabilities at home generally faced difficulty finding adequate medical care, day care, and education for their children. Government statistics showed that almost one-quarter of persons with disabilities lived in extreme poverty.
Unemployment among adults with disabilities, in part due to discrimination, remained a serious problem (see section 7.d.). The law requires local governments to offer incentives to enterprises that hire persons with disabilities. Regulations in some parts of the country also require employers to pay into a national fund for persons with disabilities when the employees with disabilities do not make up the statutory minimum percentage of the total workforce.
Standards adopted for making roads and buildings accessible to persons with disabilities are subject to the Law on the Handicapped, which calls for their "gradual" implementation. Compliance with the law was limited. The law permits universities to exclude candidates with disabilities who were otherwise qualified.
The law forbids the marriage of persons with certain mental disabilities, such as schizophrenia. If doctors found that a couple was at risk of transmitting congenital disabilities to their children, the couple could marry only if they agree to use birth control or undergo sterilization. The law stipulates that local governments must employ such practices to raise the percentage of births of children without disabilities.
Most minority groups resided in areas they had traditionally inhabited. Government policy called for members of recognized minorities to receive preferential treatment in birth planning, university admission, access to loans, and employment. The substance and implementation of ethnic minority policies nonetheless remained poor, and discrimination against minorities remained widespread.
Minority groups in border and other regions had less access to education than their Han counterparts, faced job discrimination in favor of Han migrants, and earned incomes well below those in other parts of the country. Government development programs often disrupted traditional living patterns of minority groups and in some cases included the forced relocation of persons. Han Chinese benefited disproportionately from government programs and economic growth in minority areas. As part of its emphasis on building a "harmonious society" and maintaining social stability, the government downplayed racism and institutional discrimination against minorities, which remained the source of deep resentment in the XUAR, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the TAR, and other Tibetan areas.
Ethnic minorities represented approximately 13.7 percent of delegates to the NPC and more than 15 percent of NPC Standing Committee members, according to an official report issued in 2014. A 2012 article in the official online news source for overseas readers stated that ethnic minorities made up 36 percent of cadres in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, 27 percent of cadres in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, and 51 percent of cadres in the XUAR.
According to a 2012 article from the official Xinhua News Agency, 32 percent of cadres in Yunnan Province were members of an ethnic minority. According to the civil servant recruitment plan in Yunnan Province, 8 percent of the civil service positions are reserved for ethnic minorities. During the year all five of the country's ethnic minority autonomous regions had chairmen (equivalent to the governor of a province) from minority groups. The CCP secretaries of these five autonomous regions were all Han. Han officials continued to hold the majority of the most powerful CCP and government positions in minority autonomous regions, particularly the XUAR.
The government's policy to encourage Han Chinese migration into minority areas significantly increased the population of Han in the XUAR. In recent decades the Han-Uighur ratio in the capital of Urumqi reversed from 20/80 to 80/20 and continued to be a source of Uighur resentment. Discriminatory hiring practices gave preference to Han and reduced job prospects for ethnic minorities. According to the State Council's 2015 White Paper on Xinjiang, 8.59 million, or 37 percent, of the XUAR's official residents were Han. Uighur, Hui, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and other ethnic minorities constituted 14.63 million XUAR residents, or 63 percent of the total population. Official statistics understated the Han population because they did not count the tens of thousands of Han Chinese residents on paramilitary compounds (bingtuan) and those who were long-term "temporary workers." As the government continued to promote Han migration into the XUAR and filled local jobs with domestic migrant labor, local officials coerced young Uighur men and women to participate in a government-sponsored labor transfer program to cities outside the XUAR, according to overseas human rights organizations. In January Radio Free Asia reported that local authorities in Akesu (Aksu) Prefecture, Xinhe (Toqsu) County, ordered all Uighurs between the age of 18 and 65 to take part in a forced labor program to prevent their involvement in "illegal activities" and promote stability in the area.
The law states that "schools (classes and grades) and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the media of instruction." Despite guarantees of cultural and linguistic rights, many primary, middle, and high school students in the XUAR had limited access to Uighur-language instruction and textbooks. In 2014 the XUAR Education Department reported that 69 percent of Uighur primary and secondary students received bilingual education – a term that refers to a general curriculum taught in Mandarin with only a supplementary course in the minority language – an increase from 34 percent in 2010. The prevailing view in many Uighur communities was that bilingual education came at the expense of their mother tongue. Many contacts complained the country's language policy did not adequately train Uighur students in Mandarin nor provide access to sufficient Uighur-language resources.
Officials in the XUAR continued to implement a pledge to crack down on the government-designated "three evil forces" of religious extremism, ethnic separatism, and violent terrorism, and they outlined efforts to launch a concentrated antiseparatist re-education campaign. Some police raids, arbitrary detentions, and judicial punishments, ostensibly directed at individuals or organizations suspected of promoting the "three evil forces," appeared to target groups or individuals peacefully seeking to express their political or religious views. The government continued to repress Uighurs expressing peaceful political dissent and independent Muslim religious leaders, often citing counterterrorism as the reason for taking action. Officials continued to use the threat of violence as justification for extreme security measures directed at the local population, journalists, and visiting foreigners.
In March authorities tried 25 individuals who were teaching Islamic religious studies or sending their children to schools that offered such classes on the charge of "endangering state security" in Qaraqash County, Hotan Prefecture.
Uighurs continued to be sentenced to long prison terms, and in some cases executed without due process, on charges of separatism and endangering state security. Authorities increasingly employed show trials and mass sentencing to convict large numbers of Uighurs for state security and other crimes. In August Xinhua reported that the Xinjiang Bingtuan Intermediary Court Division No. 1 convicted 25 Uighurs on terrorism charges, with sentences ranging from three years to life in prison. In August Xinjiang courts also sentenced 43 persons to prison terms of between four and 15 years for "participating or financing terrorist organizations."
The government pressured foreign countries to repatriate Uighurs who had left China; these Uighurs faced the risk of imprisonment and mistreatment upon return. Some Uighurs returned involuntarily to China disappeared. The international community was unable to independently confirm the welfare of the 109 Uighurs forcibly repatriated from Thailand on July 10. Uighurs residing in Canada indicated that Xinjiang authorities detained and interrogated them during visits to the region, pressuring them to spy on other Uighurs living abroad for Chinese authorities.
Freedom of assembly was severely limited during the year in the XUAR. For information about violations of religious freedom in Xinjiang, see the Department of State's Report on International Religious Freedom.
A son of exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uighur Congress, whom the government blamed for orchestrating the 2009 riots in Urumqi, was released from prison on May 30 after serving nine years in prison.
Radio Free Asia reported increased harassment of family members of its Uighur-American correspondent. The harassment of the reporter's family started in 2009 after he reported on the death of a Uighur torture victim. During the year one of his brothers was sentenced to five years in prison for violating state security laws. Two other brothers, who were originally charged with leaking state secrets after discussing the sentencing in a telephone call with the correspondent, were both released from detention in December. According to Radio Free Asia, Gulnar Ablet died from torture while in custody for "leaking state secrets" and "illegally contacting foreigners."
Authorities did not permit possession of publications or audiovisual materials discussing independence, autonomy, or other sensitive subjects. Uighur Abduhelil Zunun remained in prison for his peaceful expression of ideas the government found objectionable.
The law criminalizes discussion of separatism on the internet and prohibits use of the internet in any way that undermines national unity. It further bans inciting ethnic separatism or "harming social stability" and requires internet service providers and network operators to set up monitoring systems or to strengthen existing ones and report violations of the law.
Ethnic Han control of the region's political and economic institutions contributed to heightened tension. Although government policies continued to allot economic investment in and brought economic improvements to the XUAR, Han residents received a disproportionate share of the benefits, and discrimination against Uighurs in employment occurred (see section 7.d.).
As a part of the social stability maintenance campaign, in May 2014 authorities introduced a travel permit for Uighurs traveling outside their home counties. Many Uighurs reported difficulty obtaining the travel permits, which are required to board trains, clear security checkpoints, and check in at hotels throughout Xinjiang.
Protests against land seizures occurred throughout the year across the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, resulting in detentions and reports of police abuse, as the regional government sought to implement the central government's policy of resettling the country's nomadic population. In January a Mongolian herder from Abag Banner hanged himself outside a government building to protest the illegal occupation of his grazing land by local authorities. In March The Washington Post reported hundreds of villagers from Daqintala in Naiman County staged a three-week protest against toxic waste and land grabs by mining and mineral resources industries. More than 2,000 riot police officers were deployed to break up the protest with rubber bullets and high-pressure water guns.
For specific information on Tibet, see the Tibet Annex.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
No laws criminalize private consensual same-sex activities between adults. Due to societal discrimination and pressure to conform to family expectations, most lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons refrained from publicly discussing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Individual activists and organizations working on LGBTI issues continued to report discrimination and harassment from authorities, similar to that experienced by other organizations that accept funding from overseas.
Despite reports of domestic violence among LGBTI couples, the regulations on domestic violence and the draft Family Violence Law do not include same-sex partnerships, giving LGBTI victims of domestic violence less legal recourse than heterosexual victims.
Although homosexuality is no longer officially pathologized, some mental health practitioners offered "corrective treatment" to LGBTI persons at "conversion therapy" centers or hospital psychiatric wards, sometimes at the behest of family members.
NGOs reported that although public advocacy work became more difficult for them in light of the draft Foreign NGO Management Law, they made progress in advocating for LGBTI rights through specific antidiscrimination cases.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Public health authorities reported in 2014 that there were at least 500,000 persons with HIV or AIDS in the country. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that new HIV diagnoses increased by 104,000 in 2014, 14.8 percent more than in 2013.
Discrimination against persons with HIV remained a problem, impacting individuals' employment (see section 7.d.), educational, and housing opportunities and impeding access to health care. The law allowed employers and schools to bar persons with infectious diseases and did not afford specific protections based on HIV status. During the year state media reported instances of persons with HIV/AIDS who were barred from housing, education, or employment due to their HIV status.
While in the past, persons with HIV/AIDS were routinely denied admission to hospitals, discrimination was less overt, and some hospitals gave questionable excuses for not being able to treat them. Hospitals expressed fears that, should the general population find out that they were treating HIV/AIDS patients, other patients would choose to go elsewhere. It was common practice for general hospitals to refer HIV/AIDS patients to specialty hospitals working with infectious diseases.
According to NGOs, patients with HIV hid their HIV status from doctors to avoid discrimination. A 2013 study by the Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS conducted across seven provinces found that 53 percent of HIV-infected respondents who had recently been to a doctor were denied immediate treatment, often either being referred to an infectious disease hospital less equipped to handle ordinary medical problems or refused treatment entirely. Some respondents said they chose to forego medical treatment altogether rather than navigate obstacles imposed by the health care system.
Inadequate protection for health-care workers exposed to HIV in the workplace was cited as a reason persons with HIV/AIDS faced challenges in the health-care system. In August the National Health and Family Planning Commission sought to address this problem by issuing a regulation recognizing HIV exposure as an occupational hazard in certain professions, including medicine and public security. State media characterized the regulation in part as an effort to better protect the rights of health workers while curbing AIDS-related discrimination.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
The law prohibits discrimination against persons carrying infectious diseases and allows such persons to work as civil servants. The law does not address some common types of discrimination in employment, including discrimination based on height, physical appearance, or ethnic identity.
Despite provisions in the law, discrimination against hepatitis B carriers (including 20 million chronic carriers) remained widespread in many areas, and local governments sometimes tried to suppress their activities.
Despite a 2010 nationwide rule banning mandatory hepatitis B virus tests in job and school admissions applications, many companies continued to use hepatitis B testing as part of their preemployment screening (see section 7.d.).
Section 7. Workers Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law does not provide for freedom of association, and workers are not free to organize or join unions of their own choosing. Independent unions are illegal, and the right to strike is not protected in law. The law allows for collective wage bargaining for workers in all types of enterprises. The law further provides for industrial sector-wide or regional collective contracts, and enterprise-level collective contracts were generally compulsory throughout the country. Regulations require a union to gather input from workers prior to consultation with management and to submit collective contracts to workers or their congress for approval. There is no legal obligation for employers to negotiate or to bargain in good faith, and some employers refused to do so.
The law provides legal protections against antiunion discrimination and specifies that union representatives may not be transferred or terminated by enterprise management during their term of office. The law provides for the reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity as well as for other enterprise penalties for antiunion activities.
All union activity must be approved by and organized under the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), a CCP organ chaired by a member of the Politburo. The ACFTU and its provincial and local branches continued aggressively to establish new constituent unions and add new members, especially among migrant workers in large, multinational enterprises. The law gives the ACFTU financial and administrative control over all constituent unions empowered to represent employees in negotiating and signing collective contracts with enterprises and public institutions. The law does not mandate the ACFTU to represent the interests of workers in disputes.
The law provides for labor dispute resolution through a three-stage process: mediation between the parties, arbitration by officially designated arbitrators, and litigation. A key article of the law requires employers to consult with labor unions or employee representatives on matters that have a direct bearing on the immediate interests of their workers.
The law does not expressly prohibit work stoppages, and it is not illegal for workers to strike spontaneously. In some cases spontaneous strikes resulted in positive outcomes for workers, such as wage increases. After approximately 40,000 shoe factory workers went on strike in Guangdong Province in April, authorities intervened to force employers to fund arrears in social insurance contributions for workers. In other cases, however, local authorities cracked down on even peaceful strikes, charging leaders with vague criminal offenses, such as "picking quarrels," "disturbing public order," "damaging production operations," or detaining them without any charges at all. Some provincial-level legislation facilitated collective consultations, while legislation in other provinces contains provisions prohibiting workers from taking collective action and allows employers to fire workers who engaged in collective action, including strikes, during the negotiation of collective contracts. The only legally specified role for the ACFTU in strikes is to participate in investigations and assist the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security in resolving disputes. There were, however, reports of cases in which ACFTU officials joined police in suppressing strikes.
While there were no publicly available official statistics on inspection efforts to enforce labor laws, and enforcement was generally insufficient to deter wide-scale violations. Labor inspectors lacked authority to compel employers to correct violations. While the law outlines general procedures for resolving disputes, including mediation, arbitration, and recourse to the courts, procedures were lengthy and subject to delays, and workers often lacked the time, resources, or organized advocacy to pursue such cases. Local authorities in some areas actively sought to limit efforts by independent civil society and legal practitioners to offer organized advocacy, and some areas maintained informal quotas on the number of cases allowed to proceed beyond mediation.
Despite the appearances of a strong labor movement and relatively high levels of union registration, genuine freedom of association and worker representation did not exist. ACFTU constituent unions were generally ineffective in representing and protecting the rights and interests of workers. Workers generally did not see the ACFTU as an advocate, especially migrant workers who had the least interaction with union officials.
The ACFTU and the CCP undermined freedom of association by maintaining a variety of mechanisms to influence the selection of trade union representatives. Although the law states that trade union officers at each level should be elected, most factory-level officers were appointed by ACFTU-affiliated unions, often in coordination with employers. Official union leaders often were drawn from the ranks of management. Direct election by workers of union leaders continued to be rare, occurred only at the enterprise level, and was subject to supervision by higher levels of the union or the CCP. In enterprises where direct election of union officers took place, regional ACFTU officers and local CCP authorities retained control over the selection and approval of candidates. Even in these cases, workers and NGOs expressed concern about the sustainability of elections and the knowledge and capacity of elected union officials who often lacked collective bargaining skills.
Employers often circumvented legal provisions allowing for collective consultation over wages, hours, days off, and benefits through such tactics as forcing employees to sign blank contracts and failing to provide workers with copies of their contracts.
There continued to be reports of workers throughout the country engaging in strikes, work stoppages, and other protest actions. Strikes occurred in a broad range of sectors. While many strikes occurred in manufacturing, there were also reports of strikes in the transport, sanitation, and service industries. More strikes concerned nonwage issues, such as pension benefits, than in previous years. Although the government restricted the release of figures for the number of strikes and protests each year, the frequency of "spontaneous" strikes remained high, especially in Guangdong and other areas with developed labor markets and large pools of sophisticated, rights-conscious workers. Local government responses to strikes varied even within jurisdictions, with authorities sometimes showing tolerance for strikes, while at other times categorizing nonviolent worker protests, or even disseminating information about protests, as illegal activities. Coordinated efforts by governments at the central, provincial, and local levels, including harassment, detention, and the imposition of travel restrictions on labor rights defenders and restrictions on funding sources for NGOs, disrupted labor rights advocacy. In December police in Guangdong arrested Zeng Feiyang, director of the Panyu Workers' Center, for "gathering a crowd to disturb social order." Police also detained on similar charges six other workers' rights defenders: Zhu Xiaomei, Meng Han, and Tang Beiguo of Panyu Dagongzu Service Center; Deng Xiaoming, a volunteer with Haige Service Center; He Xiaobo of Foshan Nanfeiyang Social Work Service Center; and Peng Jiayong of Labor Mutual-Aid Center. Even before the December detentions, labor NGOs that previously provided information, training, and legal support to workers on collective bargaining and dispute resolution suspended their activities. Spontaneous workers groups, self-taught and self-organized at the enterprise level, were the predominant form of self-help.
Labor activists detained in previous years reportedly remained in detention at year's end, including: Cao Baoyin, Chen Yong, Liu Jiacai, Liu Jian, Memet Turghun Abdulla, Wang Miaogen, Xing Shiku, and Zhou Decai.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor, but there were reports that forced labor of adults and children occurred (see section 7.c.).
There were reports that employers withheld wages or required unskilled workers to deposit several months' wages as security against the workers departing early from their labor contracts. These practices often prevented workers from exercising their right to leave their employment and made them vulnerable to forced labor.
Closures of RTL facilities, which the NPC abolished in 2013 (see section 1.d.), continued throughout the year. Media and NGO reports indicated, however, that many of the RTL facilities were converted to drug rehabilitation centers, "custody and education centers," or prisons, and some NGOs reported that forced labor continued in these facilities.
Also see the Department of State's Trafficking in Persons Report.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the employment of children under the age of 16. It refers to workers between the ages of 16 and 18 as "juvenile workers" and prohibits them from engaging in certain forms of dangerous work, including in mines.
The law specifies administrative review, fines, and revocation of business licenses of enterprises that illegally hire minors and provides that underage children found working be returned to their parents or other custodians in their original place of residence. The penalty for employing children under age 16 in hazardous labor or for excessively long hours ranges from three to seven years' imprisonment, but a significant gap remained between legislation and implementation.
The government did not publish statistics on the extent of child labor, but rising wages and a tightening labor market led some companies to hire underage workers in violation of the law. The International Labor Organization (ILO) urged the government to be more transparent about inspection methodology and measures in place to prevent collusion between employers and inspectors.
Abuse of the student-worker system continued as well; as in past years, there were allegations that schools and local officials improperly facilitated the supply of student laborers. ILO research in 2014 into work-study programs in the apparel sector found that 52.1 percent of interns worked under conditions that did not meet national minimum standards and that 14.8 percent were subject to involuntary or coercive work.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment or Occupation
The Employment Promotion Law provides some basis for legal protection against employment discrimination. Article 3 states "no worker seeking employment shall suffer discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, race, gender, or religious belief." Article 30 outlines employment protections available to carriers of infectious diseases. Enforcement clauses include the right to pursue civil damages through the courts. Other laws provide similar protections for women and persons with disabilities. The Labor Contract Law includes a provision limiting the circumstances under which employers could terminate the contracts of employees suspected of suffering from an occupational disease and those within five years of the statutory retirement age. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the local labor bureaus were responsible for verifying that enterprises complied with the labor laws and the employment promotion law.
Discrimination in employment was widespread, including in recruitment advertisements that discriminated based on gender, age, height, and physical appearance and workplace policies that discriminated on the basis of test results for HIV/AIDs and hepatitis (see section 6, HIV and AIDS Social Stigma and Other Societal Violence or Discrimination).
Many employers preferred to hire men to avoid the expense of maternity leave and child care (paid paternity leave exists for men in some localities, but there is no national provision for paternity leave). The official retirement age was generally 60 for men and 55 for women. Some employers lowered the effective retirement age for female workers to 50. Lower retirement ages reduced overall pension benefits, which were generally based on the number of years worked. There was growing concern among women that the new two-child policy could mean further barriers to formal employment, as employers could view a potential second child to mean additional maternity leave and more time requirements outside of a job in order to care for children.
Discrimination on the basis of ethnicity also occurred. Some job advertisements in the XUAR made clear that Uighur applicants would not be considered for employment.
The government maintained a quota system to help provide employment for persons with disabilities, but some observers reported that the system had a perverse effect, with some employers putting such employees on the payroll simply to meet the quota but not requiring them to show up for work.
Courts were generally reluctant to accept discrimination cases, and authorities at all levels emphasized negotiated settlements to labor disputes. As a result there were few examples of enforcement actions that resulted in final legal decisions.
On December 11, authorities issued the Provisional Regulations for Residency. Effective from January 1, 2016, the provisional regulations would require local authorities to establish a streamlined process for migrants to register as urban residents, renewable annually, and to provide and pay for a package of limited social service benefits for these new residents. The most important of the social service benefits would be the inclusion of compulsory-level education for the children of legal residents, meaning that children of migrant workers would be eligible to relocate with their parents and attend local urban schools. While the regulations would benefit many of the estimated 270 million migrant workers residing in urban centers, the unaltered half-century old hukou system remained the most pervasive form of employment-related discrimination by denying migrant workers access to the full range of social benefits, including health care, pensions and disability programs, on an equal basis with local residents.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
While many labor laws and regulations on worker safety were fully compatible with international standards, implementation and enforcement were inadequate. Negligence, lack of safety checks, weak enforcement of laws and regulations, ineffective supervision, and inadequate emergency responses led to numerous workplace accidents during the year. In August two explosions in a warehouse storing hazardous chemicals destroyed nearby residences in Tianjin and killed at least 173 persons, including 104 first responders. In December a landslide of construction waste in south Guangdong Province killed at least 58 persons.
The law mandates a 40-hour standard workweek, excluding overtime, and a 24-hour weekly rest period. It also prohibits overtime work in excess of three hours per day or 36 hours per month and mandates premium pay for overtime work.
As the economy slowed, excessive overtime diminished but still occurred. In many cases workers encouraged noncompliance by requesting greater overtime to counterbalance low base wages and increase overall income.
There was no national minimum wage, but the law requires local and provincial governments to set their own minimum wage rates according to standards promulgated by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. For the most part, average wage levels continued to increase, and almost all local and provincial governments raised minimum wage levels during the year because of changing economic and demographic conditions. According to the ministry, the rate of increase in minimum wages nationwide slowed beginning in 2011, when officials first publicly released the data. Despite the slowing economy, spot shortages of skilled labor and successful strikes led to increased wage levels for workers in many parts of the country.
Nonpayment of wages remained a problem in many areas. Governments at various levels continued efforts to prevent arrears and to recover payment of unpaid wages and insurance contributions. It remained possible for companies to relocate or close on short notice, often leaving employees without adequate recourse for due compensation.
The State Administration for Work Safety sets and enforces occupational health and safety regulations. The law requires employers to provide free health checkups for employees working in hazardous conditions and to inform them of the results. The law also provides workers the right to report violations or remove themselves from workplace situations that could endanger their health without jeopardy to their employment.
Regulations state that labor and social security bureaus at or above the county level are responsible for enforcement of labor laws. The law also provides that, where the ACFTU finds an employer in violation of the regulation, it has the power to demand that the relevant local labor bureaus deal with the case. Companies that violate occupational, safety, and health regulations face various penalties, including suspension of business operations or rescission of business certificates and licenses. Although creative strategies by some multinational purchasers provided new approaches to reducing the incidence of labor violations in supplier factories, insufficient government oversight of supplier factories continued to contribute to poor working conditions.
The law offers cash rewards and stipulates protections for worker "whistleblowers" who reported violations, such as concealing workplace accidents, operating without proper licensing, operating unsafe equipment, or failing to provide workers with adequate safety training. Enforcement was not uniform, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.
Many vulnerable workers were employed in the informal economy. In 2012 Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researchers estimated the prevalence of informal employment ranged from 20 percent to 37 percent overall, based on the definition used, with between 45 percent and 65 percent of migrants employed in the informal sector. UN experts reported that women were particularly active in the informal economy, often as domestic workers or petty entrepreneurs. Workers in the informal sector often lacked coverage under labor contracts, and even with contracts, migrant workers in particular had less access to benefits, especially social insurance. Workers in the informal sector worked longer hours and earned one-half to two-thirds as much as comparable workers in the formal sector.
According to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, only an estimated 10 percent of eligible employees received regular occupational health services. Small and medium-sized enterprises, the country's largest employers, often failed to provide the required health services. They also did not provide proper safety equipment to help prevent disease and were rarely required to pay compensation to victims and their families. Instances of pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, and silicosis remained high. According to a 2015 Peking University report, pneumoconiosis accounted for 90 percent of victims of occupational disease. There were 750,000 officially reported cases of pneumoconiosis as of the end of 2013, with 60 percent of the cases attributed to coal mining. A charitable NGO that helped to treat migrant workers afflicted with pneumoconiosis estimated that there were an additional 6 million "unofficial" cases of pneumoconiosis among migrant workers.
According to official statistics from the National Development and Reform Commission, there were 66 deaths reported at coal mines through the first 11 months of the year, down 68 percent from the same period in 2014. In December, however, 19 additional miners perished in an explosion and fire at a mine in Heilongjiang Province, not far from the site where 22 other workers died in a fire in November at a mine severely criticized by work safety authorities for poor supervision. The coal sector reported a 62 percent year-on-year drop in profits through October, and lower production rates helped make conditions in mines safer, although, according to media reports, safety inspectors were among those laid off as profits fell.