Covering events from January-December 2001

People's Republic of China
Head of state: Jiang Zemin
Head of government: Zhu Rongji
Capital: Beijing
Population: 1.3 billion
Official language: Mandarin Chinese
Death penalty: retentionist
2001 treaty ratifications/signatures: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Optional Protocol to the UN Children's Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflict

Serious human rights violations increased in 2001. Thousands of people remained arbitrarily detained or imprisoned across the country for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association or belief. Thousands of others were detained during the year. Some were held without charge or trial under a system of administrative detention; others were sentenced to prison terms after unfair trials under national security legislation. Torture and ill-treatment remained widespread and appeared to increase against certain groups. A "strike hard" campaign against crime led to a massive escalation in death sentences and executions. The limited and incomplete records available at the end of the year showed that at least 4,015 people were sentenced to death and 2,468 executed; the true figures were believed to be far higher. In the autonomous regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, freedom of speech and religion continued to be severely restricted. Repression of Muslim ethnic groups suspected of nationalist activities increased.


The authorities continued to show willingness to adhere on a pro-forma level to the international human rights regime, but pursued domestic policies which resulted in serious human rights violations on a large scale, undermining efforts by some groups and institutions to strengthen the rule of law and the protection of human rights. Faced with growing social unrest and public criticism of official corruption and economic inequalities, the government responded with both containment and reforms. It imposed new restrictions on the media and cracked down on groups and individuals deemed a threat to the "stability" or "unity" of the country.

In February China ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, but placed a reservation on the right to freely form trade unions. In May the government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) aimed at setting up a program of cooperation, including raising public awareness about international labour standards. Amendments to the Trade Union Law were adopted in October with the stated aim of strengthening the right to form trade unions, but the All China Federation of Trade Unions remained the only permitted union.

At the UN Commission on Human Rights in April, China again blocked debate on its human rights record by using a procedural motion "not to take action". In August the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) made 15 recommendations to China, including giving full effect in its domestic legislation to the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; punishing all acts of racial discrimination; reviewing legislation and practices that might restrict minorities' right to freedom of religion; ensuring respect for the economic, social and cultural rights of minority populations; and providing statistics, by nationality and region, about detention, imprisonment, torture, death sentences and executions.

China formally joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in December. Officials had previously announced that China was reviewing some 2,300 laws and regulations for its forthcoming entry into the WTO, and that transparency in law-making and policy decisions was to be increased. An official said in October that the Chinese people would have a greater say on laws and regulations "except those concerning national security".

In late October China's parliament ratified two treaties on terrorism and "separatism": the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1998; and the Shanghai Treaty on Fighting Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism, under which China and five other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – the Russian Federation, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – agreed to cooperate to crack down on "terrorism", "separatism" and "extremism", including "separatist" activity by ethnic Uighurs from China in Central Asia.

Labour and rural protests

Labour unrest and rural discontent continued. There were many reports of workers' protests against lay-offs, redundancy terms, management corruption and delayed welfare payments. Farmers protested in response to excessive taxes, corruption by local officials and increased poverty. Some protests were met with excessive use of force by police, and some protesters were detained.

  • Police fired at farmers protesting against high taxes in Yuntang, Jiangxi province, in April, killing two men. One of the alleged protest leaders, Su Guosheng, was arrested. His fate was unknown at the end of 2001.
People continued to be imprisoned solely for trying to organize free trade unions, striking or speaking out on labour issues. Some were sent to "re-education through labour" camps, others sentenced to prison terms or forcibly detained in psychiatric hospitals.
  • Cao Maobing, a labour activist at a silk factory in Funing, was released in July after seven months' detention in Yancheng No. 4 Psychiatric Hospital. He alleged that he was forcibly given drugs and electric shocks. He was detained at the hospital after he led a strike and talked to foreign journalists.
  • In July, three labour activists were reportedly sentenced to terms of imprisonment by Tianshui People's Intermediate Court in Gansu province for "subverting state power" after they published a journal that campaigned for workers' rights. Yue Tianxiang received 10 years' imprisonment; Guo Xinmin and Wang Fengshan each received two years.
Repression of spiritual and religious groups

The campaign against groups branded as "heretical organizations" continued. There was mounting evidence that the authorities were permitting the use of violence against Falun Gong practitioners as one of the means to eradicate the group. Reports of torture and deaths in custody increased. Around 200 Falun Gong practitioners allegedly died in custody as a result of torture. Hasty cremations of the victims hampered investigations into such cases. Others continued to suffer arbitrary detention, unfair trials and imprisonment. Some were held in unregistered detention places, officially described as "study classes", and subjected to coercion to renounce their beliefs. Members of Christian groups were also arrested and some sentenced to long prison terms.
  • Zhang Min, a Falun Gong practitioner from Yilan county, Heilongjiang province, was reportedly arrested on 5 December for handing out Falun Gong leaflets. She died six days later, after police reportedly tortured her. Officials reportedly told her family that she had died of a heart attack, although she had no previous history of heart disease.
Dissidents, human rights defenders and reformers

Dissidents, human rights defenders and advocates of reform were arrested and imprisoned. Many were held on charges relating to "state secrets" vaguely defined offences widely used to repress dissent.
  • Veteran labour activist Li Wangyang was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment on 20 September for "incitement to subvert state power". He was arrested in May after demanding compensation for ill-treatment in prison. He had been sentenced to 13 years' imprisonment in 1990 for involvement in the 1989 pro-democracy movement, but had been released early in 2000 because of his poor health.
Restrictions on the media and the Internet

Further restrictions were placed on the media and the use of the Internet. A new punishment system was introduced to allow the authorities to close down any publication which violated the restrictions three times. Several newspapers and magazines were closed and journalists dismissed for publishing stories on politically "sensitive" issues. The authorities set up official websites to monitor public views, but continued to crack down on people using the Internet to disseminate information deemed to be sensitive. Among those detained were journalists trying to expose official corruption: some were reportedly held on trumped-up criminal charges.
  • In June Liu Weifang, an essayist who posted his writings on the Internet, was sentenced to three years in prison on subversion charges by a court in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
Tiananmen Square anniversary

The authorities continued to refuse to hold a public inquiry into the widespread killings and arrests by the security forces during the suppression of the 1989 pro-democracy movement and protests in Tiananmen Square. No one was held to account for the thousands of people killed, injured or arbitrarily detained. The authorities also failed to review the cases of those still imprisoned in connection with the protests for "counter-revolutionary" offences which by 1997 were no longer crimes under national law.

Torture and ill-treatment

Torture and ill-treatment continued to be widespread, occurring in many state institutions – from police stations to drug rehabilitation centres – as well as in people's homes or workplaces. The victims included all types of detainees and prisoners, as well as bystanders to protests, people involved in disputes with officials, migrant workers, vagrants and women suspected of prostitution. The perpetrators included police officers and security officials, tax collectors, judges and prosecutors, birth control officials, village and party officials. Common methods of torture included kicking, beating, electric shocks, hanging by the arms, shackling in painful positions, and sleep and food deprivation.
  • Zhang Shanguang, serving a 10-year sentence at a prison factory in Hunan province, was reportedly beaten by guards and put in solitary confinement after he circulated a petition in March demanding an end to torture and long working hours. The petition described appalling conditions at the Hunan No. 1 Prison and punishments amounting to torture for prisoners who complained or could not do the heavy work required. The 47-year-old former teacher and labour activist, convicted in 1998 of "endangering state security" because he spoke out on radio about peasant and worker unrest, was reportedly beaten severely during pre-trial detention. He was subsequently reported to have contracted tuberculosis, been denied medical care and forced to do heavy physical labour in shackles.
In July a Chinese periodical reported that torture was still being used routinely by police and investigating prosecutors to extract confessions. It quoted an independent study by China's parliament, carried out in six cities and provinces between 1997 and 1999, which uncovered 221 cases of confessions extracted under torture that had led to the deaths of 21 criminal suspects.

There was concern that the new "strike hard" anti-crime campaign in April would lead to an increase in the torture of criminal suspects and other targeted groups such as alleged "ethnic separatists"in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

Administrative detention and unfair trials

According to official sources, some 260,000 people were administratively detained in "re-education through labour" camps in early 2001, a substantial increase on the number officially reported in 1998. The use of this form of arbitrary detention increased particularly against Falun Gong practitioners and during the "strike hard" campaign against crime. Among other victims were political dissidents, members of Christian religious groups, and people accused of "disturbing public order", including prostitutes.

Many criminal and political detainees were denied access to legal representation and other rights associated with fair trial. Political trials continued to fall far short of international fair trial standards, with verdicts and sentences decided by the authorities before trial and appeal hearings usually a formality. Those charged with offences related to "state secrets" had their legal rights restricted and were tried in camera.
  • Yang Zili, a computer engineer, was arrested in March for designing a website that contained essays promoting democracy and political reforms. On the morning of 28 September he was brought before Beijing's First Intermediate People's Court, along with three others, facing charges of "subverting state power". The hearing ended in the early afternoon. A request by the defence to summon three witnesses who had allegedly given evidence against the accused was turned down by the presiding judge. No verdict had been given by the end of the year.
The death penalty

The death penalty continued to be used extensively, arbitrarily, and frequently as a result of political interference. In the weeks after intensification of the "strike hard" campaign, a record number of people were sentenced to death and executed, many after apparently summary trials. From April to early July, AI recorded 2,960 death sentences and 1,781 executions, a rate of executions not seen since a previous "strike hard" campaign in 1996. Executions were carried out for non-violent crimes such as bribery, pimping, embezzlement, tax fraud, selling harmful foods, as well as drug offences and violent crimes. By the end of the year, with the limited records available, AI had recorded 4,015 death sentences and 2,468 executions, although the true figures were believed to be much higher. Execution was by shooting or lethal injection and sometimes occurred within hours of sentencing. Many executions took place after mass sentencing rallies in front of vast crowds in public areas. At least one rally was reportedly broadcast live on state television.
  • On 20 April, over 200 people were executed in a single day after rallies held across China, including 55 executed in Chongqing municipality alone. Official media reports said the rallies were to "wipe out evil".

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of North Korean refugees and asylum-seekers in northeast China were arrested and forcibly repatriated during the year, denying them access to any refugee determination procedures, in breach of the principles embodied in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention to which China is a state party. CERD expressed concern that they were systematically refused asylum and returned, even in cases where the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had recognized them as refugees. It recommended that China guarantee and ensure equal treatment of all refugees and asylum-seekers, and adopt measures to implement objective criteria for the determination of refugee status.

Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR)

Gross violations of human rights continued in the XUAR, including arbitrary and summary executions, torture, arbitrary detention and unfair political trials. Particularly targeted were Uighurs, the majority ethnic group among the predominantly Muslim local population. Thousands of political prisoners were believed to be held in the region.
  • Jur'at Nuri and Abduhalik Abdureshit, both Uighurs, were executed on 9 January in Gulja (Yining) for alleged opposition activities. They had been convicted in July 1999 of "separatism" and illegal possession and carrying of arms, ammunition and explosives. Their trial was grossly unfair, with the convictions based primarily on confessions extracted under torture.
The intensification of the "strike hard" anti-crime campaign led to a wave of executions of alleged Uighur nationalists. Officials in the XUAR said that a major aim of the campaign was to eliminate "separatism" and "illegal" religious activities. Many suspected "separatists" were reportedly detained. Some were sentenced to prison terms or death.
  • At the end of April, 30 Uighurs were reportedly sentenced to death for alleged involvement in "separatism" and "illegal" religious activities.
A new wave of executions, of people labelled as "separatists" or "terrorists" by the authorities, took place after the 11 September attacks in the USA. A "political re-education campaign" for imams in charge of mosques in the XUAR, which was initiated in March, intensified after 11 September. Restrictions on religious practice were also placed on schools and other institutions during the holy month of Ramadan.

Tibet Autonomous Region

Human rights violations against Tibetan Buddhists and nationalists continued in Tibet. Over 250 prisoners of conscience, many of them monks and nuns, were known to remain imprisoned. The "patriotic education campaign", launched by the Chinese authorities in 1996 to control monasteries and nunneries and undermine the influence of the exiled Dalai Lama, continued, as did restrictions on religious freedom which had been extended to the population at large in recent years. Some monasteries and nunneries were closed down by the authorities, and monks and nuns expelled. Reports continued of torture and ill-treatment of detainees and harsh prison conditions. Many Tibetan prisoners suffered health problems because of poor food and sanitation, harsh working conditions or beatings. Arbitrary arrests and unfair trials also continued.
  • Migmar, a Tibetan woman, was reportedly sentenced to six years' imprisonment in May by Lhasa Intermediate People's Court after being arrested by Public Security Bureau officials while watching a video of the Dalai Lama at her home.
Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region

Mongolian intellectuals continued to be imprisoned on charges of "separatism" for trying to promote their culture and ethnic identity, for criticizing government policies, and for raising human rights issues.
  • Hada, a former general manager of a bookshop in Huhehot city, and Tegexi, a former regional government official, continued to serve prison sentences of 15 and 10 years respectively for involvement in "separatist" activities. They were convicted in 1996.
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

Discussions about an extradition agreement with mainland China and a "subversion" law continued to raise controversy. Frequent demonstrations were held against government policies or during international economic forums. There were reports of police abusing their powers to arrest protesters without sufficient legal grounds under the controversial Public Order Ordinance and of the use of excessive force.

Members of the Falun Gong, a registered society in Hong Kong despite being banned in China, were arrested at peaceful demonstrations and alleged that they were victims of police violence.

In September a magistrate ruled that police had abused their powers when arresting three protesters during the visit of China's President Jiang Zemin. Ng Kwok-hung, Sunny Leung Chun-wai and Wan Shu-nam, all members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, were acquitted of assaulting police.

AI country reports/visits

  • People's Republic of China: Tiananmen 12 years on – the Tiananmen mothers campaigning for accountability (AI Index: ASA 17/001/2001)
  • People's Republic of China: Torture – a growing scourge in China: time for action (AI Index: ASA 17/004/2001)
  • People's Republic of China: "Striking harder" than ever before (AI Index: ASA 17/022/2001)
  • People's Republic of China: Human rights in China in 2001 – A new step backwards (AI Index: ASA 17/028/2001)
  • People's Republic of China: The plight of Zhang Shanguang and others – "a legal system in tatters" (AI Index: ASA 17/033/2001)

In May, two AI delegates attended a European Union-China expert seminar in Beijing on the death penalty and the right to education.

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