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Amnesty International Report 1998 - China

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 1 January 1998
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1998 - China, 1 January 1998, available at: [accessed 17 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
(This report covers the period January-December 1997)


Hundreds, possibly thousands, of protesters and suspected opponents of the government were detained during the year, while thousands of political prisoners detained in previous years remained imprisoned. Many were prisoners of conscience. Some were sentenced after unfair trials, others were detained without charge or trial. Torture and ill-treatment remained widespread. The death penalty continued to be used extensively.

In March the National People's Congress amended the Criminal Law. Although its most ostensibly political crimes of "counter-revolution" were repealed, they were replaced by a similar range of offences against national security. The amended law came into effect in October, but the cases of prisoners convicted of "counter-revolutionary" offences were not reviewed.

The 15th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, held in September, endorsed further economic reforms and resulted in some leadership changes. The Congress' report referred for the first time to the protection of human rights and stressed the need to "govern the country by law". In October the government published a paper on religion, acknowledging the principles on freedom of religion in international human rights instruments, but setting restrictions on authorized religious activities in China. At the UN Commission on Human Rights, China again blocked discussion on a draft resolution by moving a procedural motion to take no action. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited China in October.

In October China signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, but gave no indication of when it might ratify it.

Despite growing official acknowledgement of international human rights standards, serious human rights violations continued.

A crack-down on suspected Muslim nationalists, religious "extremists" and alleged "terrorists", which started in 1996, intensified in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region after ethnic protests and several bombing incidents attributed to underground opposition groups. In February anti-Chinese protests by Uighurs in Yining, western Xinjiang, turned into riots after clashes between police and local Muslims. At least nine people were killed and nearly 200 injured, although it remained unclear how many casualties resulted from rioting and how many from police action. Several hundred people were detained and at least 59 were subsequently tried for involvement in the protests. Their sentences were announced at "public sentencing rallies" held in Yining in April and July. Twelve of them were sentenced to death and executed, and 47 received sentences ranging from seven years' imprisonment to the death penalty suspended for two years.

Following the Yining riots, the authorities targeted "separatists", suspected nationalist sympathizers and members of unapproved religious groups in Yili and other areas of Xinjiang, leading to the dismissal of 260 grassroots officials and the closure of over 100 Koranic schools. Hundreds of people were reportedly detained, including 40 officially described as "core participants in illegal religious activities". Many were reportedly still held without charge or trial at the end of the year.

A crack-down on Tibetan nationalists and religious groups continued in the Tibet Autonomous Region (tar). Official propaganda teams continued to carry out "patriotic education" in Tibetan monasteries and nunneries. Protests by monks and nuns who refused to denounce the Dalai Lama led to expulsions and arrests, while some went into hiding or fled the country to escape arrest. In February a group of nuns in Lhoka Choenkye county were reportedly detained for peacefully protesting when local government officials came to their nunnery to enforce a ban on pictures of the Dalai Lama. Taken to Nethang county prison, they were still reportedly detained several weeks later. In June Jampel Tendar, a monk at Gongkar Choede monastery, was reportedly detained for expressing support for the Dalai Lama when an official "re-education" team required monks to write statements denouncing him. He was reportedly beaten at the monastery and in detention centres in Tsethang and Lhasa. In June the tar authorities reported that 98 people had been sentenced to prison terms in Tibet in 1996 for "endangering national security". They included 14 monks from Ganden monastery imprisoned for their involvement in clashes with government officials at the monastery in May 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997).

Protests by workers and farmers in various provinces led to arrests, but little information was available. In Sichuan province, at least nine people were detained in Mianyang in July for taking part in workers' protests against corruption among factory officials. Armed police broke up the protests, reportedly injuring scores of demonstrators and arresting dozens. Local officials later denied that any demonstrators had been injured, but confirmed that at least nine suspected "instigators" of the protests were detained. Li Bifeng, a dissident and former tax officer in Mianyang, who had issued a public appeal about the workers' protests, went into hiding in July to escape arrest. Several political dissidents were detained by police during the year in apparent attempts to intimidate or silence them.

State control over religious activities and harassment of members of unapproved Christian groups continued, although fewer arrests were reported than in previous years. Those detained included Xu Yongze, leader of the "New Born" Church, an evangelical group in Henan province. He was detained in March together with seven other Christians, and reportedly sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in September for "disturbing public order". Su Zhemin, underground Roman Catholic Bishop of Baoding, in Hebei province, was reportedly arrested in October. He had been in hiding since a crack-down on Catholics in Donglu in May 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997) and had been imprisoned for his beliefs on several previous occasions

Thousands of political prisoners detained without trial or convicted after unfair trials in previous years remained imprisoned. They included many prisoners of conscience serving long sentences for their part in the 1989 pro-democracy movement and others jailed for the peaceful expression of their beliefs. In January prisoners of conscience Hada and Tegexi, two ethnic Mongol intellectuals sentenced in 1996 to 15 and 10 years' imprisonment respectively (see Amnesty International Report 1997), had their appeal against their sentence rejected. According to official sources, at least 2,000 "counter- revolutionary" prisoners remained imprisoned and 200 monks and nuns were jailed in Tibet for activities "endangering national security". The true number of political prisoners was believed to be much higher. Many prisoners of conscience were serving terms of "re-education through labour", a form of administrative detention imposed by local government committees outside the judicial process. According to official sources, 230,000 people were detained without trial in 280 "re-education through labour" centres throughout the country for minor offences including prostitution, swindling and "other activities disturbing social order".

Around a dozen prisoners of conscience were released on parole or after their case had been reviewed or their sentences reduced. Others were released at the end of their sentence. They included Yu Zhenbin, an employee of the Qinghai provincial archives imprisoned since 1989, who was released in June after his 12-year sentence was reduced by four years, and Zhao Lei, held since 1993 in connection with the case of her husband Bao Weiji (see Amnesty International Report 1994), who was released in October after her six-year sentence was reduced. In a rare case, prisoners of conscience Tang Yuanjuan (see Amnesty International Report 1992) and Li Wei, both jailed since 1989, had one of their two convictions for "counter-revolutionary" offences quashed by a court and were released in July. In November Wei Jingsheng, China's best-known dissident, was released on medical parole and sent to the usa for medical treatment. He had spent most of the previous 18 years in prison.

Released prisoners of conscience continued to be subjected to police surveillance and harassment, and some were pushed into exile as a result. Bao Ge, a human rights activist from Shanghai held for three years in a labour camp (see Amnesty International Report 1995), was released in June. He was denied identity papers needed to find work and both he and his family were frequently harassed by police. He left China in November

Political trials continued to fall far short of international standards, with verdicts and sentences decided by the authorities before the trial, and appeal hearings usually a mere formality. In April Chadrel Rimpoche, former Abbot of Tashilhunpo monastery, and two other Tibetans were tried in secret for communicating with the exiled Dalai Lama over the search for the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. Chadrel Rimpoche was sentenced to six years' imprisonment for "conspiring to split the country" and "leaking state secrets", while his two co-defendants received terms of four and two years' imprisonment. The trial was closed to the public because it involved state secrets, according to official sources. No details of the proceedings were disclosed. In May a court in southern China sentenced Li Wenming and Guo Baosheng, two labour rights activists who had been arbitrarily detained for over three years, to three and a half years' imprisonment for "plotting to subvert the government". Their trial had started in November 1996 but was suspended after attracting the attention of the Hong Kong media. No independent observers were allowed to attend the hearings.

Torture and ill-treatment of detainees and prisoners held in detention centres, prisons and labour camps remained widespread, sometimes resulting in death. In October, for example, a common criminal prisoner at the Qingshan penal farm, Guangdong province, was reportedly beaten to death by two prison officers for failing to complete his daily assigned work. Between January and July, 300 to 400 cases of torture and ill-treatment were investigated by the procuracies, according to official sources, but the real incidence of torture was believed to be far higher. Few prosecutions for torture were reported. In a case publicized in February, four police officers were sentenced to prison terms of three to 11 years' imprisonment for torturing to death Lin Zhuhua, a bank robbery suspect in Jiangsu province. In October, two police commanders in Gansu province were given two-year suspended prison sentences for torturing three innocent suspects until they "confessed" to a murder. The suspects were sentenced to death on the basis of their forced confessions but a provincial high court ordered a retrial and they were later exonerated. Other reports of torture, however, were ignored by the authorities. In July, for example, Ji Xiaowei, a Hong Kong citizen sentenced to death in southern China for alleged drug-trafficking, claimed on appeal that he had confessed under torture during police interrogation. The appeal court ignored his claim and confirmed the death sentence. He was executed on 18 July.

Torture and ill-treatment of political prisoners held in various areas also continued to be reported. Liu Nianchun, a labour activist held in northeast China, was reportedly tortured with electric-shock batons by labour camp officials in May and placed in solitary confinement in harsh conditions after going on hunger-strike in protest at his imprisonment.

Prison conditions were often harsh, with inadequate food and medical care, and many prisoners suffered from serious illnesses as a result. Medical parole was rarely granted to political prisoners. Those denied medical parole included Chen Longde, a detained dissident crippled after jumping from a window to escape torture in August 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997). After several months in hospital, Chen Longde was returned to the Luoshan labour camp in December 1996 and required to work despite still suffering from his injuries and being unable to walk without crutches. In a public appeal to the authorities in October, his parents said they had unsuccessfully sought medical parole for him for over a year

The death penalty continued to be used extensively to tackle growing crime resulting from economic and social changes. At least 68 criminal offences, many of them non-violent, were punishable by death. The suspended death penalty was abolished as a penalty for juvenile offenders when the Criminal Law was amended in March. Executions for fairly minor crimes, such as theft, continued during the year. Local media reporting of death penalty cases appeared to have been restricted. The limited records available at the end of the year showed that at least 2,495 people were sentenced to death and 1,644 ex-ecuted. The true figures were believed to be far higher.

Those executed included at least 12 people accused of committing various offences during violent ethnic protests in February in Yining, Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Eight other people were executed in May in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, for alleged terrorist activities, including bombings.

Amnesty International urged the authorities throughout the year to release all prisoners of conscience, ensure fair trials for other political prisoners, take steps to stop torture and executions, and review the use of the death penalty. In May Amnesty International held discussions on its concerns with a Foreign Ministry official and representatives from the China

Society for Human Rights Studies visiting Norway. Amnesty International published various reports during the year, including: in March, People's Republic of China: Law reform and human rights; in April, People's Republic of China: The eighth anniversary of the 1989 massacre – those who have been silenced; and in August, The death penalty in China: Breaking records, breaking rules.

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