Country Scores

Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 6
Status: Not Free
Population: 1,324,700,000
Capital: Beijing

2008 Key Developments: Expectations that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders might enact significant democratic reforms, or even make gestures toward improved human rights, during its year as the host of the Olympic Games proved unfounded. Instead, the government increased restrictions on online writers, human rights lawyers, democracy activists, migrant workers, and individuals seeking to petition the central government over abuses by local officials. Religious and ethnic minorities, particularly Tibetans, Uighur Muslims, underground Christians, and Falun Gong adherents, were subjected to stepped-up restrictions on religious practice, arrests, and abuse in custody, including several high-profile deaths. A massive earthquake in Sichuan province in May led to the deaths of 70,000 people, and the government's initial openness to media and humanitarian efforts received international praise. However, official efforts to cover up both the disproportionate number of schools that collapsed during the quake and the separate discovery of baby formula tainted with melamine raised concerns over the potentially fatal consequences of widespread corruption and lack of public oversight of government.

Political Rights: China is not an electoral democracy. The ruling CCP possesses a monopoly on political power, and its nine-member Politburo Standing Committee makes most key political decisions and sets government policy. A 3,000-member National People's Congress is, in principle, China's parliament, but it remains subordinate to the party. The only competitive elections are for village committees and urban residency councils, but these are often closely controlled by local party branches, whose role includes the vetting of candidates. Opposition groups are suppressed, and activists publicly calling for reform of the one-party political system risk arrest and imprisonment. Despite thousands of prosecutions launched each year and new regulations on open government, corruption remains endemic, particularly at the local level.

Civil Liberties: Freedom of the press remains extremely restricted, particularly on topics deemed sensitive by the CCP. During the year, the authorities sought to tighten control over journalists and internet portals, while employing more sophisticated techniques to manipulate the content circulated via these media. Journalists who do not adhere to party dictates are harassed, fired, or jailed, and a citizen journalist was killed for the first time in 2008. Religious freedom is sharply restricted, particularly for members of unauthorized religious groups. Freedoms of assembly and association are severely curtailed, though strikes and protests occurred during the year, drawing mixed responses of either conciliatory official action or violent repression. Chinese workers are not allowed to form independent trade unions. Legislation offering greater protection for workers took effect in 2008, but implementation remained incomplete at year's end. The CCP controls the judiciary and directs verdicts and sentences, particularly in politically sensitive cases. In 2008, the regime further tightened control over key elements of the judiciary and increased the use of extralegal forms of detention, such as "reeducation through labor" and psychiatric arrest. Serious violations of women's rights continue, including domestic violence, human trafficking, and the use of coercive methods to enforce the one-child policy.

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