Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - China

Political context

The fact that Beijing will be the host of the Olympic Games in August 2008 had inspired the hope that progress would be made in the domain of human rights. This hope was very quickly dashed.

Indeed, throughout 2007, the Chinese authorities pursued their systematic violation of human rights and continued to muzzle all forms of dissident opinion against a backdrop of increasing social protests, in particular against the forced evictions of citizens from their homes, the expropriation of peasant farmers from their lands, unpaid wages, and local authority corruption. Repression of these protests was particularly virulent in the period preceding the 17th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, during which Mr. Hu Jintao was confirmed as Secretary General of the Party for five additional years.

In this context, lawyers became a favourite target for repression in 2007. In addition, censorship of the media and of Internet continued, with dozens of journalists and Internet users imprisoned by the end of 2007.

Furthermore, no reform has been undertaken to put an end to arbitrary detentions, which notably result subsequent to sentences of Re-Education Through Labour (RTL).1 The use of torture and other ill-treatments also remains widespread. In addition, China remains the country where the greatest number of people is executed each year, even though statistics on sentencing and executions are classified State secrets. However, since January 1, 2007, the Supreme Court has been responsible for controlling the validity of all death sentences pronounced in China. This reform may have the effect of reducing the number of death sentences and of remedying some judicial errors.

China has also pursued its policy of repressing religious practice outside the State-recognised churches. In this regard, members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement are particularly targeted by the repression.

The Chinese Government pursued its policy of assimilation of Tibet, with the completion in 2006 of the railway line linking Lhasa to China, which will facilitate an increased presence of Chinese migrants in Tibet, the exploitation of the province's natural resources, and the militarisation of the region. The authorities also continued the repression of Tibetans protesting against violations of their minority rights. Thus, on August 1, 2007, the monk Ronggye A'drak was arrested and placed in detention in Lithang after speaking to a large crowd about the importance of the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.

A particularly restrictive environment for all human rights activities

In 2007, the Chinese authorities continued to use the legislative framework to silence all dissident voices, in particular through the arrest and prosecution of human rights defenders for crimes vaguely defined such as "endangering State security" (Articles 102-113 of the Criminal Code), which includes "inciting subversion of State power" (Article 105 (2)), "disclosure of State secrets", and "disturbing social order".

Moreover, despite an increase in the number of NGOs in China, their freedom of action is seriously restricted, in particular in terms of registration requirements and fundraising. Any civil organisation must indeed obtain the prior approval and support of a Government or Party Department or a State-affiliated organisation working in the same field, before being allowed to submit a registration application to the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MOCA) and its local sections. As a consequence, many organisations operate with no legal status and are therefore subjected to possible closure, Government confiscation of their material and the arrest of their members.

Likewise, the freedom of peaceful gathering is also greatly restricted. According to a Circular published by the Ministry of Public Security on April 5, 2000, when peaceful gatherings are "stirred up by hostile elements that [...] exploit the conflicts between different social groups", it is the duty of the police to "immediately crack down on the perpetrators". Article 11, section 5 of this Circular further states that "dangerous items, banners, leaflets and other items of illegal propaganda must be confiscated and those carrying them treated according to the law".2 The Government has tried to intimidate and punish indiscriminately all those who have organised demonstrations, particularly protests against corruption, the collapse of the social State, pollution, forced evictions, or strike organisers. On January 19, 2007, for example, the police evacuated a sit-in organised by villagers protesting against the illegal sale of their land by the Government in Sanshan Village, Foshan, Guangdong Province. More than 40 demonstrators were beaten and arrested, including several elderly people.3

A harsher environment as the 2008 Olympic Games approach

The context related to the run-up to the Olympic Games in August 2008 has continuously strengthened an environment already hostile to human rights and their defenders. Throughout 2007, the authorities intensified their repression in order to silence civil society, in particular by increasing the number of "soft" detentions or house arrests (especially to prevent defenders living in the provinces from travelling to Beijing), arbitrary arrests and unfair trials of human rights defenders. Furthermore, on November 16, 2007, Mr. Liu Shaowu, Director of the Security Department of the Committee for the Organisation of the Beijing Olympic Games, announced to the media that demonstrations would be strictly forbidden during the Games. On September 22, 2007, Mr. Gao Zhisheng, Director of the Shengzi Law Firm, was driven away from his home by ten plainclothes State Security Protection Officers. On September 13, 2007, Mr. Gao had written an Open Letter calling on members of the American Congress to express their concerns regarding the human rights situation in China in the run-up to the Olympic Games. After having been detained incommunicado for over a month, he was driven back to his home, in Beijing, at the beginning of November. Mr. Zhang Wenhe, a democracy activist, was forcibly interned in a psychiatric hospital after carrying a banner in October 2007 in the streets of Beijing, bearing the words "We want human rights and democracy, not fascist Olympic Games". Mr. Yang Chunlin has remained held in detention since July 6, 2007 for having collected signatures for an Open Letter entitled "We want human rights, not the Olympics". Mr. Hu Jia was also arrested on December 27, 2007 for "inciting subversion of State power" after publicly condemning the Government's failure to keep its promise to promote and respect human rights, made on the occasion of its candidacy as the host of the Games.4

In such a context, the organisers of the Games have not been able to remind the host of its international commitment to the respect and promotion of human rights. On July 5, 2007 Mr. Hein Verbruggen, Chairman of the Beijing 2008 Coordination Commission, reportedly declared that "the way in which the Beijing Games are being used as a platform for groups with political and social agendas is often regrettable". He further called on the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) to "take steps to negate these agendas". A few days later, Mr. Verbruggen publicly clarified his words, saying that he had merely advised NGOs not to "subordinate the Olympics to political ends". However, on August 6, 2007 Mr. Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), stated in an interview given to the Reuters press agency, that it was "fully legitimate" for NGOs or other human rights associations to express themselves in parallel with the organisation of the Games.

Lawyers: a privileged target for repression

In 2007, just as in 2006, there was an increased repression of lawyers, who work in an environment that is hostile to their activities. For example, Article 306 of the Criminal Code, Article 38 of the Criminal Procedure Code, and Article 45 of the Lawyers' Law authorise prosecutors to arrest lawyers for "perjury" and "false testimony" and to sentence them to up to seven years in prison. Furthermore, Article 34 of the Lawyers' Law, amended in 2007, imposes new restrictions on their freedom of expression during hearings: thus chapter 4, Article 37, states that "when a lawyer speaks in defence of an accused party, he or she cannot be subject to legal action. The provision excludes, however, protections for lawyers' pleadings if they threaten State security, maliciously defame others, or seriously disturb order in the court".5

There are many examples of lawyers held in detention and sentenced on the grounds of their human rights activities. Mr. Zheng Enchong, a Shanghai lawyer, has for instance been under house arrest since his release in June 2006 and has been subjected to multiple acts of harassment. Many lawyers also suffered physical assault, as is the case of Mr. Li Heping, who was beaten on September 29, 2007 by a dozen men for several hours. A few days before, police from the national protection and security unit of the Beijing Public Security Bureau (PSB) had verbally ordered him to leave the city with his family. Similarly, on October 23, 2007, Mr. Wang Guirong, who supported migrant workers in their attempt to obtain the payment they were owed for their work on the black market, was attacked with a knife and lost his left hand. Mr. Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught jurist, remained, at the end of 2007, in prison for his active role in bringing legal action against the abortion and forced sterilisation campaign to which thousands of women from Linyi City, Shandong Province, had been subjected. His prison sentence of four years and three months was confirmed in appeal in January 2007.

Repression of defenders of economic, social and cultural rights

In China, defenders of economic, social and cultural rights continued to pay a heavy price for their activities in support of the underprivileged and their opposition to powerful interest groups. The authorities' collusion – and even complicity – in the increasing number of attacks has also remained constant.

Defenders fighting against expropriations and forced evictions

In 2007, citizens who condemned forcible expulsions continued to be subjected to constant repression. Thus, on November 8, 2007, Mr. Gong Haoming was placed in detention for "intentionally revealing State secrets". Mr. Gong has pursued legal action since 1996 against the Shanghai Government for violating the right to housing and property. On April 10, 2007, Messrs. Liu Dehuo, Cui Yongfa, Chen Ningbiao, Chen Zhibiao, Shao Xixia, Guo Jianhua and Ms. Shao Xiaobing were given prison sentences of between two and a half to four years after protesting in 2005 against forcible expropriations of land.6

Defenders of the right to environment

Defenders of the right to environment have not escaped repression. For example, on August 10, 2007, the Yixing Municipal Court sentenced Mr. Wu Lihong, an environmental activist and peasant farmer from Zhoutie township (Yixing City, Jiangsu Province), to three years in prison and a fine of 500 RMB (around 48 euros) for "extortion of money". Since 1991, Mr. Wu has regularly complained to Government authorities about companies which pour industrial waste into Lake Tai. Likewise, Mr. Sun Xiaodi, who for the last ten years has denounced radioactive contamination from a uranium mine in the Gannan Autonomous Tibetan Prefecture in Gansu Province, has been subjected to constant acts of harassment, together with his family.

Defenders of the right to health and fighting against HIV/AIDS

Those who defend the right to health are also victims of acts of harassment. Ms. Mao Hengfeng is a symbol of such repression, a defender who campaigns against the single child policy and who, in January 2007, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for "intentional destruction of property" for having broken a lamp in a hotel room where she had been placed in "soft" detention without a warrant on May 23, 2006.

HIV/AIDS activists are also targets of repression, especially those who question the public authorities' responsibility in the evolution of the epidemic. Ms. Li Xige has remained under house arrest since 2006 as a result of her activities on behalf of women who have become HIV positive following blood transfusions in state-run hospitals between 1993 and 2001, most frequently during Caesarean births.

Defenders of workers' rights

Union freedom is still inexistent in China and it remains extremely difficult for workers to defend their rights. For example, on October 31, 2007 Mr. Li Guohong, a representative of workers laid off by the Zhongyuan petroleum company, was placed in administrative detention after visiting Puyang City, Henan Province, to obtain information on the judicial proceedings that dismissed workers considered initiating against the company. Mr. Li was due to be released on November 16, 2007 but the authorities sent him to an RTL camp for one and a half years. Furthermore, on November 20, 2007, Mr. Huang Qingan, a representative of the "Dangongzhe" Centre, an advice and support centre for workers in Shenzhen city, was attacked with a knife near the organisation's headquarters. The Centre itself had been sacked during two previous attacks, on October 11 and November 12, 2007. These acts appear to be linked to a much broader campaign against the Centre and especially against its activities in support of migrant workers.7

Obstacles to freedom of expression and repression of cyber-dissidents

The Chinese Government is always concerned about its image and keeps a tight control on any information that concerns it. Cyber-dissidents, i.e. defenders who use the Internet to promote human rights and democracy, are particular targets of repression.8 The authorities have been able to master the technology that enables Internet sites and their content to be filtered and monitored. For instance, in Mianyang City, Sichuan Province, over 2,000 Internet sites and forums were closed down in November 2007 as part of a "campaign to combat pornography on Internet", but which was mainly targeting so-called "sensitive" websites, including the China Citizens Monitor Net, a website that fights corruption. Cyber-dissidents were also imprisoned and given arbitrary sentences. Mr. Zhang Jianhong, aka Li Hong, founder and Editor-in-chief of the Internet site Aegean Sea (Aiqinhai), which was closed down in March 2006, and a member of PEN, the association of independent writers, was sentenced to six years in prison on March 19, 2007 by the Ningbo Intermediate Court, for "inciting subversion of State power".

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 RTL is an administrative detention measure that permits the Public Security Bureau (PSB) to detain people for a maximum period of four years without judicial control. Detainees have no right to the assistance of a lawyer and may not appeal against these sentences. RTL is applied in the case of offences that are not sufficiently serious to be punished under the Criminal Code.

2 See China Labour Bulletin.

3 See Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CRD).

4 To that extent, the European Parliament, in its Resolution P6_TA (2007) 0622, adopted on December 13, 2007, expressed its strong concern "at the recent increase of political persecution related to the Olympics of human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, petitioners, civil society activists, ethnic groups such as the Uighurs, and religious people of all beliefs, especially Falun Gong practitioners" and "call[ed] on the Chinese authorities to release these people immediately and to put an end to these human rights violations, as well as to the demolition of substantial numbers of houses without compensation to make way for the Olympic infrastructures".

5 Unofficial translation.

6 See CRD.

7 See Press Release of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), November 27, 2007.

8 In its Resolution P6_TA (2007) 0622, adopted on December 13, 2007, the European Parliament expressed its concern about "the surveillance and censorship of information on the Internet" and "call[ed] on the Chinese authorities to release [...] the [...] cyber-dissidents and web users imprisoned in China".


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