One of the first things that come to mind about human rights in China would most likely be the Tiananmen Square massacre, where in 1989 hundreds of student protestors lost their lives to the People’s Republic of China.
The bloody body of a dead student removed from the street right after the Tiananmen Square crackdown on June 4, 1989.
The name People’s Republic of China seems a contradiction of its meaning. If indeed its name is the People’s Republic of China than why did it massacre peaceful protestors with tanks and machine guns? But the Chinese government argues that the force was necessary for maintaining a national order (Muzhi Zhu). The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is actually an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the main source of power. At the national and regional levels, party members hold almost all the top government, police, and military positions. The country’s authority rests with members of the Politburo (China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999). CCP stresses that it needs to maintain stability and social order.
The Government’s poor human rights record in 1999 shows the extent at which the Government intensified efforts to suppress its 1.27 billion people. A crackdown against a newly formed opposition party, which began in the fall of 1998, broadened and intensified during the year. By the end of 1998, almost all of the key leaders of the China Democracy Party (CDP) were serving long prison terms or were in custody without any formal charges, and only a handful of members nationwide dared to remain active publicly (China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999). Tens of thousands of members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement were arrested after the movement was banned in July. Thereafter, several leaders of the movement were sentenced to long prison terms in late December, and hundreds of others were sentenced to reeducation through labor. Late in the year, according to some reports, the government started confining some Falun Gong adherents to psychiatric hospitals (China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999).
The government continued to commit widespread and well-documented human rights abuses in violation of internationally accepted terms. These abuses stemmed from the government’s extremely limited tolerance of public unrest. The Constitution and laws provide for fundamental human rights however, these rights are often ignored in practice. Abuses included instances of extra-judicial killings, torture and mistreatment of prisoners, forced confessions, arbitrary arrest and detention, lengthy incommunicado detention, and denial of due process(Amnesty International. “China, violations of human rights). Prison conditions at most facilities remained very harsh. In many cases, especially in sensitive political cases, the judicial system denied criminal defendants basic legal safeguards and due process of the law, merely because authorities attached higher priorities to maintaining public order and suppressing political opposition than to enforcing the legal norms of the country (Amnesty International. “China, violations of human rights). The government infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. The government tightened restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of the press. They also increased controls on the internet, which caused self-censorship by journalists. They severely restricted freedom of assembly, and continued to restrict freedom of association. They continued to restrict freedom of religion, and intensified its controls on unregistered churches (China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999). The Government also continued to restrict freedom of movement, meaning they do not permit independent domestic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in order to monitor public human rights conditions. Discrimination and violence against women, including coercive family planning practices, which sometimes include forced abortion and forced sterilization is a major problem, as well as prostitution, trafficking of women and children, abuse of children, and discrimination against the disabled and minorities (Amnesty International. “China, no one is safe”). The Government continued to restrict tightly worker rights, and forced labor in prisons. Particularly serious human rights abuses persisted in some minority areas, especially in Tibet and Xinjiang, where restrictions on religion and other basic freedoms have increased over time (Amnesty International. “China, no one is safe”) But in 1996 China released a report that claimed.
“China’s national economy maintained steady, rapid and sound growth, the efforts to build up democracy and a legal system were notably strengthened, and the human rights conditions maintained a good momentum of continuous improvement and promised further progress”(Muzhi Zhu).
The Chinese government also goes on to list that there has been a decrease in the population of poverty-stricken Chinese, increased levels of local democracy, and a “severe crackdown” on crime. They also say that increases in the protection of the rights of workers, and the rise in education levels have increased the quality of human rights in the country (Muzhi Zhu). If indeed the countries authority rests with the Politburo, then it can easily release and make up these statistics. Actually, according to a release by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, in February 25, 2000, manipulation of the press by the government for political purposes increased during the year of 1999. After authorities moved at the end of 1998 to close a number of newspapers and fire several editors, a more cautious atmosphere developed. As part of its crackdown against the popular Falun Gong spiritual movement, the government has also employed every element of the state-controlled media to conduct a nationwide anti-Falun Gong propaganda (Amnesty International. “China, violations of human rights). The press however, has still continued to report on cases of corruption and abuse of power by some local officials. Actually, it is also estimated that several thousand, are detained in violation of international human rights instruments for peacefully expressing their political, religious, or social views (Amnesty International. “China, violations of human rights).
Another current problem is torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment. The law in China prohibits torture. However, police and other members of the security have employed torture and degrading treatment in dealing with detainees and prisoners (Amnesty International. “China, violations of human rights). Former detainees and the press reported credibly that officials have used electric shocks, prolonged periods of solitary confinement, incommunicado detention, beatings, shackles, and other forms of abuse against detained men and women (Amnesty International. “China, violations of human rights). Prominent dissident Liu Nianchun, who was released in December 1998, reported that guards used an electric stun gun on him (China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999). Persons detained pending trial were particularly at risk during pretrial detention, due to weaknesses in the legal system or lack of the implementation of the revised Criminal Procedure Law. In February a domestic publication reported that an engineer in Liaoning province, who was suspected of theft, suffered brain damage as a result of hours of beatings while in police custody. The police eventually determined that the engineer was innocent and released her. She later sued the local government. Chinese reporters who attended her trial said that there were efforts in court to intimidate them. (China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999). However, the Chinese Government has also stated, “the Chinese judiciary deals with every complaint of torture promptly after it is filed, and those found guilty are punished according to law” (Muzhi Zhu). For the first time in 1998, as part of its campaign to address police abuse, the government published national torture statistics, along with 99 case studies, in a volume entitled “The Law Against Extorting a Confession by Torture.” The book, which was published by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, stated that 126 people died during police interrogation in 1993 and 115 died in 1994. Incidentally, most cases of torture are believed to go unreported (China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999).
Perhaps one of the most shocking things in the Chinese human rights debate deals with the corruption within the court system. Official government statistics report that there are some 230,000 persons in reeducation-through-labor camps, sentenced to up to 3 years through administrative procedures, and not by a trial (China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999). The Chinese Constitution states that the courts shall, in accordance with the law, exercise judicial power independently (Muzhi Zhu). However, this has not been the case because the judiciary is subject to policy guidance from both the government and the Communist Party. It has been found that at both the central and local levels, the government and the CCP frequently interfere in the findings of the judicial system and take a hand in deciding court decisions (Amnesty International. “China, violations of human rights). Another problem is that judges are appointed by the people’s congress at the corresponding level of the judicial structure, which can lead to an undue influence by local politicians over the judges they appoint(Amnesty International. “China, violations of human rights). During a May 1998 conference at a Beijing university, one expert estimated that more than 70 percent of commercial cases in the lower courts were decided according to the wishes of local officials rather than by the law.( Amnesty International. “China, violations of human rights) State-run media published numerous articles calling for an end to such “local protectionism” and demanded the development of a judiciary that is independent of interference by officials.( Amnesty International. “China, violations of human rights)
Another violation of the Human rights code consists of the right to privacy. Government interference in daily personal and family life continues to decline for the average citizen (Amnesty International. “China, no one is safe”). In some urban areas, most people still depend on government-linked work units for housing, permission to have a child, approval to apply for a passport, and other aspects of ordinary life. Despite legal protections, authorities often do not respect the privacy of citizens (Amnesty International. “China, no one is safe”). Although the law requires warrants before law enforcement officials can search premises, this provision has frequently been ignored. However, the Public Security Bureau and the procuratorate can issue search warrants on their own authority (Amnesty International. “China, no one is safe”). The Constitution states, “freedom and privacy of correspondence of citizens are protected by law”( Muzhi Zhu). However, in practice, authorities often monitor telephone conversations, electronic mail, and internet-communications of foreign visitors, businessmen, diplomats, and journalists, as well as activists, and others. The security services routinely monitor and enter the residences and offices of foreigners to gain access to their computers, telephones, and fax machines (Amnesty International. “China, violations of human rights). Authorities also open and censor domestic and international mail. Han Chunsheng, a Voice of America (VOA) listener who allegedly sent over 20 letters criticizing of the Government to a VOA mailbox, remains in prison on an 8-year sentence for counterrevolutionary incitement and propaganda (Amnesty International. “China, violations of human rights). Government security even monitors and sometimes restricts contact between foreigners and citizens (Amnesty International. “China, violations of human rights).
Further problem of the Chinese Human rights debates addresses the fact that it is often dangerous and ill advised for protestors to peaceably assemble and protest the government. The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly. However, the government severely restricts this right in practice (China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999). The Constitution stipulates that such activities may not challenge, so to speak “party leadership”, or infringe upon the “interests of the State”(China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999). Protests against the political system or national leaders are prohibited. Authorities deny permits and quickly move to suppress demonstrations involving expression of negative political views (China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999). At times police used force against demonstrators. In January the Western Press reported that one protester was killed and more than 100 others injured when police dispersed some 3,000 villagers in the province of Hunan, who were protesting corrupt government and high taxes (China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999). Last March in the city of Suining, in Sichuan province, police reportedly beat demonstrators in an attempt to disperse a three-day protest by machinery factory workers over unpaid benefits (China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999). In April two groups of CDP members in Hangzhou attempted to lay wreaths for victims of the Tiananmen massacre in two different parks. Police reportedly dispersed one group, and arrested three participants. The other group was able to hold its vigil (China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999). In October a violent protest reportedly broke out in Panzhihua, in Sichuan province, after police refused to help a robbery victim who subsequently was knifed by his attackers. Many of those protesting were injured in clashes with the police; 10 people were reportedly arrested (China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999). In late October, police in Ganzi, an autonomous region in western Sichuan, reportedly clashed with up to 3,000 ethnic Tibetans who were protesting the arrest of 3 monks. One of the monks arrested was the respected Buddhist teacher Sonam Phuntsok, from the nearby Dargye Monastery. The police reportedly fired upon the crowd, injuring some protestors. It is unknown whether any persons were killed, but up to 80 ethnic Tibetans reportedly were detained in connection with the incident (Amnesty International. “China, no one is safe”).
To help combat human rights violations Chinese leaders have appealed to western powers to impose sanctions on the Chinese. Some legislators include the prohibition of high Chinese government officials to come to the United States. Trade restrictions on certain goods, and less money to be given as foreign aid to China are a probable solution. According to Chinese Wei Jingsheng, China is at a critical juncture where its leaders really need economic support from the United States. “This is the moment when America should be adding more pressure, asking them to change more, to reform more” (Wei Jingsheng). Also the Chinese leaders are not so amenable to reason as they are to pressure, and the United States has tremendous influence on China’s policies. There has however been some good news; one overseas human rights group reported in January that there has been some 9,000 cases of mishandling of justice discovered in 1998 and that 1,200 police officers had been charged with criminal offenses (Muzhi Zhu). It is also said that authorities will continue a nationwide crackdown on police corruption and abuses. Government statistics released in March showed that in 1998 corruption prosecutions were up 10 percent, to over 40,000 investigations and 26,000 indictments of officials ((Muzhi Zhu). In January there were reports that Public Security Bureau Deputy Minister, Li Jizhou, was detained for corruption. Several other high-ranking party officials also were prosecuted on corruption charges during the year. Also late in the year, National People’s Congress Standing Committee Chairman, Li Peng issued a warning on police corruption (Jingsheng Wei). All though these are small steps they are steps in the right direction to help bring to an end the atrocities committed by Chinese officials. And the Chinese people can look up to the words of Wei Jingsheng.
“Some say that after the student protests of 1989 and the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989, democracy and freedom in China died. I do not believe this to be so, and only have some patience and you will see what happens in a generation or two; wait and witness the backbone people can show when they are fighting for their freedom. As Czechoslovakia democrat Tomas G. Masaryk said in totalitarian Central Europe nearly 50 years: “Dictators always look good until the last minutes.”
Amnesty International. “China, no one is safe”. Ed. Edwin J. Feulner, Jr. New York, NY. 1996.
Amnesty International. “China, violations of human rights : prisoners of conscience and
the death penalty in the People’s Republic of China”. Ed William Meyers. London, U.K 1994.
China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999. Bureau of Democracy,
Human Rights, and Labor. February 25, 2000. U.S. Department of State. 18 March, 2000 < http://www.usia.gov/regional/ea/uschina/prchr99.htm>
Jingsheng Wei. “What to do About China” no date of publication or sponsor. 18 March,
2000 < http://www.rjgeib.com/thoughts/china/what-to-do-about-china.html>
Muzhi Zhu. “China’s Human Rights Record” 25 June, 1997. Chinese Embassy. 17
March 2000. < http://www.china-embassy.org/Cgi-Bin/Press.pl?438>