During 2014, the ruling Chinese Communist Party intensified its targeting of ethnic minority groups with an "anti-terror" campaign in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang, and ratcheted up controls on freedom of expression, Amnesty International said in its annual global human rights report.
Ethnic minorities including Tibetans, mostly Muslim Uyghurs, and Mongolians faced discrimination and targeting by security forces, the London-based group said in a report published on its website on Wednesday.
The administration of President Xi Jinping last year launched a "strike hard" terror campaign in Xinjiang that targeted legitimate religious activities among the region's Muslims, according to the report.
"The authorities stepped up already onerous restrictions on Islam with the stated aim of fighting 'violent terrorism and religious extremism,'" Amnesty International said.
"Uyghurs faced widespread discrimination in employment, education, housing and curtailed religious freedom, as well as political marginalization," the report said.
It added that county governments had posted notices requiring schoolteachers to feed ethnic minority Uyghur pupils with food and sweets to ensure they couldn't observe the fasting month of Ramadan.
Meanwhile, prohibitions on government employees and Communist Party cadres adhering to any religion were reinforced.
"Several Uyghur officials were punished for downloading religious materials from the Internet or 'worshipping openly,'" the report said, adding that outward signs of adherence to Islam such as beards or veils were often banned.
'Strike hard' campaign
The "strike hard" anti-terror campaign launched by the government last May had raised concerns that more than 200 people accused of membership in "terrorist and extremist groups" would not receive fair trials, Amnesty said.
"Top officials prioritized speed in making arrests and convening trials, while calling for greater "co-operation" between prosecuting authorities and courts," the report said.
The authorities held several mass "sentencing rallies" including on attended by 7,000 people in a stadium on May 29, at which 55 people, believed to be Uyghurs, were sentenced for crimes including terrorism, it said.
It said official accounts of a July 28 shooting in Yarkand (in Chinese, Shache) county had been challenged by Uyghurs, who said security personnel had opened fire on hundreds of unarmed Uyghur protesters.
Restrictions in Tibet
Tibetans, meanwhile, continued to face discrimination and restrictions on their rights to freedoms of religious belief, expression, association, and assembly, amid continuing self-immolations, the report said.
It said local authorities had targeted some relatives and friends of those who self-immolated for allegedly helping them to do so.
Anyone with links to Tibetans overseas or found with materials linked to exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has been barred from senior office or from running in village elections, the report said.
Across China, the government also took further measures to "severely restrict the right to freedom of expression," the report said.
"Activists and human rights defenders risked harassment and arbitrary detention," the report said. "Torture and other ill-treatment remained widespread and access to justice was elusive for many."
The authorities continued to harass, arbitrarily detain, imprison, torture, and otherwise mistreat activists for legitimate human rights work, the report said.
"[We saw people held in] black jails, illegal house arrest, a lot of activists held for 'picking quarrels and stirring up trouble', 'disrupting public order,' and crimes like that," Amnesty International China researcher Patrick Poon told RFA.
Reports of torture
Last year's crackdown saw increased reports of torture and mistreatment of prisoners of conscience while in custody, Poon said, citing the case of four rights lawyers "arbitrarily detained and tortured" after they tried to visit a client held at an unofficial detention center in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang.
Lawyer Tang Jitian reported being "strapped to an iron chair, slapped in the face, kicked, and hit so hard over the head with a plastic bottle filled with water that he passed out," the report said.
"He said he was later hooded and handcuffed behind his back and suspended by his wrists, while police continued to beat him."
It said one victim of torture had died in custody after police in Heilongjiang's Harbin city used electric shocks to elicit information. Four people were later found guilty of torture under police supervision.
China is also increasingly exporting torture and law enforcement equipment overseas, Amnesty International said.
"China consolidated its position as a major manufacturer and exporter of a growing range of law enforcement equipment, including items with no legitimate policing function such as electric shock stun batons and weighted leg cuffs," the report said.
It said China has also freely exported equipment that could be used legitimately in law enforcement but is easily abused, such as tear gas or riot control vehicles, without adequate controls to prevent serious human rights violations.
The report said police had switched tactics following the abolition of the "re-education through labor" camp system, arbitrarily holding people in other locations instead.
Legal education centers, various forms of administrative detention, 'black jails,' and illegal house arrest were all used to silence perceived troublemakers, while many activists were held under criminal detention on vague public order charges.
The authorities continued to issue rules and regulations targeting freedom of expression, with a new task force set up in charge of "coordinating Internet security," especially ideological efforts to repel "hostile foreign forces" online, the report said.
Lawyers were barred from discussing cases or writing open letters while working on cases, or from criticizing the government or legal system, while journalists were banned from reporting on stories outside their current specialty, and from posting articles without their employers' approval.
In Hong Kong, Amnesty International spokeswoman Mabel Au said, the 79-day Occupy Central mass pro-democracy campaign had led to police mistreatment of protesters, in spite of being nonviolent.
"We don't think the police used force in accordance with international standards," Au told RFA.
"We saw a number of acts of excessive force and violence against citizens, including their use of tear-gas that breached some international standards," she said.
"It was unnecessary for the police to fire 87 rounds of tear-gas," citing U.N. standards for the use of tear gas.
Reported by Dai Weisen for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.