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China Human Rights Policy: 10 Years After Vienna

March 31, 2003

Convened by FIDH and the International Fellowship of Reconciliation
Palais des Nations, Room XXIV
Monday, March 31, 2003
1:00-3:00 PM

Statement by Liu Qing, President of Human Rights in China

In recent years, China’s human rights situation has diverged in two different directions. On the one hand, China’s human rights have made great strides in some areas such as culture, entertainment and economics. On the other hand, some areas, notably civil and political rights, are still subject to considerable suppression and the situation has actually deteriorated. For that reason, when speaking of China’s current human rights situation we can’t simply say it has improved, or that it is bad or has gotten worse. Rather, we need to acknowledge that the situation has both improved and deteriorated in different ways.

Human Rights in China (HRIC) is devoted to improving China’s human rights situation, and for that reason we naturally concentrate on the areas where the situation is unsatisfactory, worsening, or regressive. Overall, we believe that China’s human rights situation in recent years remains very serious and requires urgent action.

All available information suggests that the Chinese government is as repressive as ever toward political dissidents. I have personal experience with the kind of persecution the Chinese government metes out to people with dissenting political views. I was a leader and participant in China’s Democracy Wall Movement in 1978. Even though this movement ultimately helped economic reformer Deng Xiaoping gain ascendancy over Hua Guofeng, Wei Jingsheng and I and other participants in the movement were punished severely. I spent eleven years in prison, during which I was subjected to unceasing psychological oppression aimed at coercing me into an admission of guilt. For more than five years I was locked in a solitary confinement cell. For another period of four years I was not allowed to speak, and had dozens of “trustee” prisoners monitoring my every move and tormenting me at will. My days in prison were a never-ending ordeal of hunger, physical suffering, and mental torture. If you think those bad old days are over, you are wrong. Political dissident Fang Jue, who was recently expelled from China, was subjected to the same kind of abusive treatment before he was released from prison last year.

During the recent meeting of the National People’s Congress, the authorities acknowledged having sentenced more than 3,400 people for “national security” offences. But Chinese citizens insisting on the most basic human rights often find themselves accused of national security offences. For example, in the Northeastern city of Liaoyang, factory workers have been carrying out public protests alleging corruption after being laid off from bankrupt factories while still being owed several years’ back pay, medical and retirement benefits. Even though the subsequent arrest and conviction of certain factory officials indicates that the workers’ protests were justified, the authorities have still arrested protest leaders and charged them with subversion. In another notorious case, a group of intellectuals issued an open letter to the 16th Party Congress calling for political reforms, and many of the signatories were arrested and charged with imprisonable offences. The fact is that the number of dissidents arrested is much greater than the government acknowledges, because many are sentenced to reeducation through labor (RTL), custody & repatriation (C&R), or house arrest, which are not included in the government’s statistics.

In recent years the international community has also noticed the repressive stand the Chinese government has taken in managing the Internet. Last year the government issued strict new regulations to control use of the Internet, and also pressured certain overseas companies, such as the American company Yahoo!, to accept self-censoring practices. At the same time, the government has cracked down on individuals for simply expressing their views on the Internet. For example, the Beijing Normal University student Liu Di was arrested for publishing views on the Internet. And according to Chinese reports, Xinjiang dissident Tao Haidong was recently sentenced to seven years in prison for articles he posted on the Internet.

In the area of traditional freedom of expression, the Chinese government has also declined to loosen its grip in terms of media control, the exercise of religious beliefs, or crackdowns on the efforts of workers and peasants to organize. The government particularly targets political discourse and any other discussion that might influence society. More than 30 journalists are known to be in custody at present, and many publications have been forced to close down after printing articles offensive to the authorities. For example, Reuters recently reported that 21st Century Globe Journal was forced to cease publication after printing articles on Hu Jintao and the Korean nuclear crisis.

One of China’s most serious human rights problems is the suppression of labor groups pressing for workers’ rights. China’s economic reforms have been accompanied by huge numbers of workers being laid off, often with months or even years of pay and benefits in arrears. For these workers, taking to the streets in protest is their only means of fighting for their survival. But the Chinese authorities have forbidden the workers to organize themselves, and the recent arrest of Yao Fuxin and others in Liaoyang is a typical example of the repressive measures taken against such workers.

Religious persecution also remains a serious problem. Although the Chinese government likes to claim that China already has religious freedom, the fact is that only religions under the control of the state are allowed. Those religious groups that choose to operate outside of the government’s control, for example Christian house churches, have been subjected to continual suppression, arrest, and other forms of persecution. Leaders of more influential underground religious groups have been arrested through entrapment and false evidence. For example, Gong Shengliang, leader of the South China Church, was originally sentenced to death. Although international pressure led the authorities to withdraw the charge of “using an evil cult to harm the implementation of the law,” Gong remains under a life sentence for other charges. For other groups identified as “evil cults,” such as the Falun Gong, the persecution has been relentless and ruthless. The Falun Gong has identified by name more than 500 followers who have died in custody as a result of torture and other harsh treatment.

In terms of personal freedom and justice, the average Chinese citizen finds his or her rights seriously infringed upon on a regular basis. Particularly oppressed are migrant workers from the rural areas who seek work in major urban centers. Every year as many as one million of these migrants are arbitrarily arrested on the streets, or even where they live. They are subjected to fines for ludicrous offences, or detained for extended periods and then sent back to their home villages at their own expense. While in detention they are often treated in a brutal and humiliating fashion, sometimes beaten and abused to the point of death. Most unfortunate are young men and women, whom police officers sometimes sell into prostitution or hard labor.

Human rights abuses of the kind I just mentioned have been thoroughly documented by HRIC in press releases, reports, and journal articles. HRIC does not only strive to make the international community aware of China’s true human rights situation, but also recommends and calls for practical solutions to human rights problems. HRIC’s intention is not merely to criticize and expose China’s human rights problems, but through this criticism and exposure to raise enough concern that these problems will be adequately addressed. Even though China’s human rights problems are complex and not easy to solve, we believe that with persistence we will see results in the long term. For example, we have seen the Chinese authorities take concrete steps to address concerns over the custody & repatriation system, controls on population movement and arbitrary arrest of migrants. China has also signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2001, and in 1998 signed and committed to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. China’s human rights situation is not going to be rectified overnight, but it is by no means a lost cause. With concerted and sustained efforts by the Chinese people and the international community, we dare to hope for the day when we will see China recognize and share the human rights values adopted by the rest of the world.

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