Amnesty International Report 2000 - China, including Hong Kong and Macao

People's Republic of China

Head of state: Jiang Zemin
Head of government: Zhu Rongji
Capital: Beijing
Population: 1.2 billion
Official language: Standard Chinese or Mandarin
Death penalty: retentionist

1999 saw the most serious and wide-ranging crack-down on peaceful dissent in China for a decade. Thousands of people were arbitrarily detained for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association or religion. Some were sentenced to long prison terms under draconian national security legislation and after unfair trials; others were assigned without trial to up to three years' detention in "re-education through labour" camps. Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners were widespread. Thousands of people were sentenced to death and many executed. In the autonomous regions of Tibet and Xinjiang those suspected of nationalist activities or sympathies continued to be the targets of particularly harsh repression.

Background

In the year which marked the 50th anniversary of the creation of the People's Republic of China, the serious deterioration in human rights called into question the authorities' sincerity in signing key human rights conventions in the previous two years. It also represented a serious setback for the policy of dialogue on human rights pursued by some governments. Indeed, as the international spotlight faded, the Chinese authorities began to crack down with increased intensity on dissidents and activists. At the UN Commission on Human Rights, China again blocked debate on a draft resolution by using a procedural motion "not to take action".

Crack-down on fundamental freedoms

The human rights situation in China deteriorated sharply during the year. Those targeted in the crack-down included political dissidents, anti-corruption campaigners, labour rights activists, human rights defenders and members of unofficial religious or spiritual groups. Thousands of people were arbitrarily detained by police in apparent attempts to intimidate or silence them. Some were sentenced to long prison terms after unfair trials or sent to forced labour camps. Many were reportedly tortured or ill-treated.

Repression of dissidents

Arrests of members of the China Democratic Party (CDP) continued and more than 20 leading members were sentenced to prison terms during the year. The CDP was founded in Zhejiang province by a group of dissidents. Arrests of its members began in July 1998, within hours of the first application to register the CDP, and started a chain of protests by other dissidents, many of whom were themselves subsequently harassed, questioned or detained.

A broad range of people were also detained for promoting reforms. Chinese law requires that all independent groups be registered. In October 1998, the same month that China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantees the rights to freedom of expression and association, the government revised several laws on the registration of groups which had the effect of increasing the limitations on these rights.

  • Writer Peng Ming, leader of a grouping of self-styled "moderate" reformers – the China Development Union and the China New Development Strategy Research Institute – was assigned to 18 months' "re-education through labour" in February for allegedly "buying sex" from prostitutes, which he and his family asserted were trumped-up charges. Prior to his arrest he had led weekly discussions in Beijing on reform issues and had been detained more than once and allegedly instructed to dissolve the Institute.

Repression of religious and spiritual groups

The nationwide "anti-superstition" campaign, initiated in 1998, continued. Members of Christian groups were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms. "Unauthorized" temples continued to be demolished and adherents of charismatic or unorthodox religious and millenarian groups were arrested and assigned without trial to terms of "re-education through labour". The death penalty and long prison sentences were imposed on alleged leaders of such groups.

Thousands of members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement were arbitrarily detained and put under pressure to renounce their beliefs. Some were reportedly tortured or ill-treated, resulting in at least one death. In July, the day after the Ministry of Civil Affairs announced that the Falun Gong movement would be banned for alleged "illegal activities", "promoting superstition" and "jeopardizing public security", at least 97 Falun Gong leaders and thousands of practitioners, many of them elderly women gathering for morning exercises, were detained in several cities. Many were released after being taken to stadiums for "education" sessions; some were beaten with electric batons.

Protests against the ban and arrests of practitioners continued over the following months. The crack-down intensified in October when changes to the law were introduced to outlaw cults. According to official sources, by 4 November at least 111 Falun Gong followers had been charged with crimes, but dozens more were charged subsequently. Hundreds of other practitioners were reported to have been sent without charge or trial to "re-education through labour" camps. In November, the first publicly reported trial of Falun Gong members took place in Hainan province. The four defendants, described as "key members" of the group, were accused of organizing "illegal" gatherings after the ban on the group and sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to 12 years.

Repression of labour activists

Millions of workers were unemployed as a result of the failure of companies in the state sector. There were many demonstrations by unemployed workers protesting at the failure of the state to provide social welfare and against government corruption. Independent trade unions were illegal and the official All China Federation of Trade Unions continued to be controlled by the ruling Communist Party. Activists who attempted to organize independent labour action continued to be detained, imprisoned or subjected to "re-education through labour". They, like other political prisoners, were sometimes singled out for particularly harsh treatment, including beatings and denial of medical care.

Denial of due process

In many cases the authorities continued to show a blatant disregard for the Criminal Procedure Law, revised in 1996 to provide for greater access to legal representation, notification of relatives and public trial. Political defendants were routinely denied their right to due process and their lawyers were often subjected to pressure by the authorities. Political trials continued to fall far short of international standards, with verdicts and sentences being decided by the authorities before the trial, and appeal hearings usually a mere formality.

  • Lin Hai, a 30-year-old computer software businessman and the first person to be imprisoned for "subversive" use of the Internet, was sentenced in January to two years in prison for "inciting the overthrow of the state". Following his detention in March 1998, he was accused of a variety of offences and finally sentenced in connection with the alleged use of other people's Internet domains to covertly share e-mail addresses with "anti-China" magazines abroad. His trial was closed to the public and he was sentenced more than seven weeks after the trial. His lawyer was reportedly informed of the sentence by telephone. His wife, Xu Hong, who had been actively pursuing all legal avenues for her husband despite threats, intimidation and harassment by the authorities, was reportedly detained at Tianping police station for six hours on the day of the hearing on trumped-up charges of theft. She had not been able to see her husband between his detention in March 1998 and his trial hearing in January 1999. Lin Hai was released in September.

Tiananmen – 10 years on

Many of the thousands killed, injured or arrested by the security forces in the clamp-down on the 1989 pro-democracy movement and protests in Tiananmen Square had still not been accounted for. Most of those imprisoned had been convicted, after unfair trials, of "counter revolutionary" offences which by 1997 were no longer crimes under Chinese law. The authorities however refused to review their cases. Those who had been released had their freedom restricted and were closely monitored by the authorities. As in previous years, restrictions on fundamental freedoms intensified in June as the authorities sought to prevent commemoration of the June 1989 massacre; police detained pro-democracy campaigners and tried to force them to sign statements promising that they would not attempt to commemorate the victims of the massacre. AI continued to call for an amnesty to be granted to all those still imprisoned in connection with the 1989 protests in view of the summary nature of the trials and the absence of adequate safeguards for defence. It also continued to call on the authorities to account for all those killed in the 1989 massacre.

Death penalty

The death penalty continued to be used extensively, arbitrarily, and frequently as a result of political interference. According to the limited records available to AI at the end of the year, at least 1,720 death sentences were passed and at least 1,077 executions were carried out in 1999, bringing the total number recorded in the 1990s to more than 27,120 death sentences and around 18,000 executions. These were believed to be only a fraction of the true figures as death penalty statistics remained a state secret in China. Execution was by shooting or lethal injection and sometimes occurred within hours of sentencing. Appeals were rarely successful. Mass executions were frequently carried out prior to major events or public holidays, such as the Chinese New Year, when death sentences were sometimes imposed for relatively minor crimes which would not attract such a sentence at other times of the year.

Torture and ill-treatment

Torture and ill-treatment of criminal suspects were common. Police used various methods to torture and intimidate people, including kicking, beating, electric shocks, hanging by the arms, shackling in painful positions, and sleep and food deprivation. Prisoners serving sentences in prisons or labour camps were frequently tortured or ill-treated by guards or by other inmates at the instigation of guards.

  • Zhang Lin, a pro-democracy and labour rights activist held in Guangzhou No.1 "Re-education Through Labour" Centre in southern China since November 1998, was reported to be in poor health as a result of repeated beatings and torture. He was required to work 14 hours a day while in poor health and was reportedly beaten when he tried to protest. Reports suggested he was tortured at least six times, as a result of which he twice attempted suicide. He was beaten by other inmates acting on orders from the guards, stripped of his clothes and dragged on the ground for long distances, and had his head forced under water. In July he went on hunger strike for six days to protest against his treatment and conditions of detention.

Prison conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh. The routine denial of medical care was a serious problem. Prisoners were also denied family visits, which restricted opportunities for providing food and necessary medication to prisoners.

  • Lu Yongxiang, a 48-year-old writer serving a five-year prison sentence for instigating "reactionary propaganda", continued to be denied adequate health care despite suffering from serious kidney problems. He was arrested in May 1995 in Guizhou Province after distributing leaflets, including an open letter to the authorities, on the sixth anniversary of the events in Tiananmen Square.

Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR)

Gross violations of human rights continued in the XUAR amid growing ethnic unrest fuelled by unemployment, discrimination and curbs on fundamental freedoms. The targets of this pattern of arbitrary and summary executions, torture, arbitrary detention and unfair political trials were mainly Uighurs, the majority ethnic group among the predominantly Muslim local population.

Over the years attempts by Uighurs to air their views and grievances and peacefully exercise their most fundamental rights have met with repression. AI has called on the government to establish a special commission to investigate human rights violations and assess economic, social and cultural needs in the region; to suggest remedial measures; and to provide a forum for individuals and groups to voice their grievances.

Many Uighurs were arbitrarily detained for their suspected views, associations or peaceful activities. Others were accused of involvement in clandestine opposition activities, including armed opposition. Most were held without charge for several months, in violation of Chinese law, during which time their families received no news of them.

Political trials were a mere formality as the verdict was usually pre-determined. Few defendants had access to lawyers. Some were taken to "public sentencing rallies" – show trials attended by hundreds or thousands of people.

Torture of political prisoners to extract information or coerce them to sign confessions was frequent and systematic. Some particularly cruel methods of torture not used elsewhere in China were reported in the XUAR, for example, the insertion into the penis of horse hair or of a special wire with small spikes which fold flat when it is inserted but extend when it is pulled out.

Scores of Uighurs, many of them political prisoners, were sentenced to death and executed. The XUAR continued to have the highest ratio of death sentences relative to its population and was the only region where political prisoners were known to have been executed in recent years. Others, including women, were reported to have been extrajudicially executed.

  • Zulikar Memet was sentenced to death in July, together with his brother and eight other Uighurs, at least four of whom were executed the following month. He was originally accused of "helping separatists" to hide or escape, but was subsequently tortured and forced to confess to other, unknown, offences. At his trial he denied the accusations against him and stated that he had been tortured to extract a confession. He reportedly showed the court signs of torture, including missing fingernails, but the court ignored his complaint and sentenced him to death. At the end of the year Zulikar Memet's fate remained unknown.
  • Rebiya Kadeer, a well-known Uighur businesswoman, was detained in August for "illegally offering state secrets across the border". She was apparently arrested in connection with her communications to her husband, Sidik Rouzi, a former political prisoner now resident in the USA, and her attempts to meet a visiting group from the US Congressional Research Service. At the end of the year she was believed to be held at Liu Daowan jail in Urumqi.

Tibet Autonomous Region

Gross human rights violations, particularly against Tibetan Buddhists and nationalists, continued. Hundreds of prisoners of conscience, most of them monks and nuns, remained imprisoned. Reports persisted of torture and ill-treatment, harsh prison conditions, and deaths in custody. The "patriotic education" campaign intensified with further closures of monasteries, and ill-treatment and expulsions of monks and nuns deemed "unpatriotic".

Many Tibetan prisoners suffered health problems as a result of inadequate food coupled with poor sanitation and long hours working in unacceptable conditions. Many detainees were tortured and ill-treated. Kidney and liver ailments were common as a result of kicking and beatings by prison guards. Other forms of torture reported included the use of electric shock batons, particularly on sensitive areas such as the mouth or genitals; being forced into painful positions; and the use of ankle, hand and thumb cuffs.

  • In July, 16-year-old Phuntsog Legmon, a Tibetan novice monk, was sentenced to three years' imprisonment and two years' deprivation of political rights. The accusation – "plotting or acting to split the country or undermine national unity" – related to an incident in March when he and another young monk, who was also arrested, had shouted slogans such as "Free Tibet" for several minutes in the Tibetan capital Lhasa on the anniversary of the 1959 uprising in Tibet.

Hong Kong Special Administration Region

Controversy over interpretation of the Basic Law – the Region's Constitution – exposed both the limits of the autonomy of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region (HKSAR) and loopholes in the checks, balances and separation of powers which underpin human rights guarantees in the Basic Law.

In January the Court of Final Appeal ruled against the HKSAR government over Basic Law provisions concerning the right of abode in Hong Kong of residents' children born in mainland China. The HKSAR government claimed this would result in an insupportable population increase and its Chief Executive requested that the National People's Congress Standing Committee intervene and interpret the Basic Law's provisions, effectively challenging the authority of the Court. The Committee gave an interpretation which had the effect of reversing the Court's judgment. However, the Basic Law only explicitly provides for the courts to request such interpretations. This expedient also bypassed procedural safeguards governing amendment to the Basic Law. The HKSAR government reassured critics that the move had been "exceptional", but refused to limit its future use.

In April Li Yuhui was executed in Guangdong Province in mainland China after an unfair trial for the alleged murder by poison of five women in Hong Kong. He had been charged under the Chinese criminal code which, under the "one country two systems" policy, should not apply in the HKSAR. Negotiations between the Chinese and HKSAR governments on the return of criminal suspects were continuing at the end of 1999. However, the HKSAR government would not guarantee to abide by either international standards excluding return for political crimes, or not to return suspects to jurisdictions where they could face the death penalty. The HKSAR government was also slow to intervene on behalf of Hong Kong citizens illegally detained elsewhere in China.

In June an estimated 60,000 people joined the annual vigil commemorating the June 1989 Beijing massacre.

In December the Court of Final Appeal upheld the conviction of two activists who desecrated regional and national flags during a peaceful protest. It ruled that relevant laws were consistent with limitations on freedom of expression permitted under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Those denied entry to Hong Kong during the year included exiled Chinese dissidents Wang Dan and Wei Jingsheng. Some Hong Kong legislators continued to be barred from mainland China.

In November the UN Human Rights Committee, commenting on the first report submitted by China on the implementation of the ICCPR in Hong Kong, expressed concern that government requests for reinterpretation of the Basic Law could undermine the right to fair trial. It affirmed that deportation procedures should provide effective protection against the risk of imposition of the death penalty.

Macao Special Administrative Region

On 20 December, after four centuries of Portuguese rule, Macao returned to the full sovereignty of the People's Republic of China. The new Macao Special Administrative Region (MSAR) will be governed by a Basic Law which preserves a degree of autonomy for the territory under a "one country two systems" model. While Portugal had previously taken steps to extend several international human rights standards it had ratified to Macao, uncertainties and ambiguities remained about their application after the handover.

In November the UN Human Rights Committee, hearing Portugal's final report on the implementation of the ICCPR in Macao, affirmed that these obligations devolved with the territory to China. It expressed concern about several apparent shortcomings in human rights protection in the MSAR and the risk to prisoners who might be transferred for trial to other jurisdictions in China where they might face the death penalty. No arrangements were agreed between China and the MSAR on continued reporting to the Committee on the MSAR. Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah stated that he was not seeking to reintroduce the death penalty as part of a crack-down on crime, but there were no formal guarantees that the death penalty would not be reintroduced.

In October the National People's Congress Standing Committee decided which of Macao's existing laws contravened the Basic Law and would not be adopted by the MSAR. These included provisions governing the independence of the Ombudsman. One of the new laws enacted at the handover criminalized any "public insult or failure to respect" state symbols.

AI country reports

  • People's Republic of China: Gross violations of human rights in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (AI Index: ASA 17/018/99)
  • People's Republic of China: Tiananmen – 10 years on – "forgotten prisoners" (AI Index: ASA 17/009/99)
  • People's Republic of China: No improvement in human rights – the imprisonment of dissidents in 1998 (AI Index: ASA 17/014/99)
  • People's Republic of China: Reports of torture and ill-treatment of followers of the Falun Gong (AI Index: ASA 17/054/99)
  • Macau: Human rights challenges for transition (AI Index: ASA 27/003/99)

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.