China White Paper 'Confused' Over Meaning of Human Rights

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An activist marking 25 years since the Tiananmen Square protests at an event in Hong Kong on May 18, 2014 flies a kite adorned with the date 6/4 in reference to the June 4, 1989 crackdown on the protests.
An activist marking 25 years since the Tiananmen Square protests at an event in Hong Kong on May 18, 2014 flies a kite adorned with the date 6/4 in reference to the June 4, 1989 crackdown on the protests.

Chinese rights experts have hit out at a human rights report by the ruling Chinese Communist Party after dozens of dissidents, victims' relatives, and activists were detained ahead of the 25th anniversary of a military crackdown on civilian protesters in Tiananmen Square, saying the document cites examples that have little to do with the concept of individual rights in the face of state power.

China said in its "white paper" that the government has effectively safeguarded its citizens' rights of life and health, personal liberty, and personal dignity and other rights of the person, official media reported on Monday.

Citing the abolition of the "re-education through labor" camp system at the end of last year and a series of raids on human trafficking gangs, the report said China had been "effective" in protecting the rights of women and children.

People's courts at all levels concluded 250,000 cases of homicide, robbery, kidnapping, explosion, rape, trafficking of children and women, and gang-related organized crime, convicting 325,000 persons, the official news agency Xinhua said.

Meanwhile, 825 people were acquitted and courts examined an unspecified number of retrials and overturned an unknown number of erroneous convictions on appeal, it said.

"Protection of the rights of the person of criminal suspects, defendants and detainees has been enhanced," the report said, pointing to improvements in audio- and video-recording of detainees in detention.

'Things have gotten worse'

But lawyers working within China's penal system said the report gave a far-from-complete picture of the country's judicial system and widespread rights abuses.

"The Supreme People's Court did overturn some fairly typical miscarriages of justice in 2014," Beijing-based rights lawyer Mo Shaoping told RFA after the report was published. "But the overall picture isn't as good as they are making it out to be."

"There are still a great many areas which remain lacking where human rights protection and the rule of law are concerned," Mo said. "In some areas, things have gotten worse."

"Citizens' right to self-expression and public debate hasn't improved; it has gotten worse," he said.

A Liaoning-based petitioner surnamed Zhang said he didn't think the report was an indicator of improvements to come, because local governments simply ignore anyone complaining of official wrongdoing.

"[There are] so many rights activists and petitioners, but they don't do anything to resolve their grievances," he said.

"If you complain, they detain you and oppress you [further]."

Tougher line

U.S.-based political commentator Wang Juntao agreed, saying that the administration of President Xi Jinping had taken a tougher line than its predecessors since taking power in November 2012.

"Since Xi Jinping came to power, China's human rights situation has deteriorated," Wang said. "The judicial system lacks independence, so government departments and the military all take their lead from the party."

"They don't respect the law or uphold the Constitution at all."

He hit out the report as hypocritical, coming amid a widening crackdown on government critics ahead of the 25th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 bloodshed that ended weeks of student-led mass protest on Tiananmen Square.

"The Chinese government is shameless to talk about human rights," Wang said.

Tiananmen anniversary

Chinese authorities have detained and questioned dozens of activists and family members of victims of the 1989 bloodshed after they held a seminar to mark the sensitive anniversary.

Around 20 human rights lawyers, academics, and family members of victims attended the May 3 seminar in Beijing, where they discussed the crackdown on unarmed civilians by the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

Beijing has suppressed any public efforts to commemorate victims of the crackdown, in which the PLA used machine guns and tanks against civilians.

China's censors are also quick to clamp down on any online reference to the crackdown, and keywords linked to the incident typically return no search results on the country's tightly controlled Internet.

In recent days, the authorities have also detained or placed under close surveillance the relatives of those who died or were maimed in the crackdown.

Some of those held for questioning in the wake of the seminar were subsequently released, but top human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and other activists including online writer Liu Di, social scientist Xu Youyu, house church leader and democracy activist Hu Shigen, and Beijing Film Academy professor Hao Jian have been formally detained on public order charges.

Gao Yu

Outspoken veteran journalist Gao Yu was also held on charges of revealing state secrets to an overseas organization apparently because she sent a copy of a hard-hitting party ideological document to a news website.

Her lawyer Zhang Sizhi has still been denied permission to visit her in her detention center, he told RFA on Monday.

"The people at the detention center told me that the time isn't right, and that we should wait to be informed [about a meeting]," Zhang said.

"We are very anxious to see Gao Yu in a hurry, but we will have to wait for further notification."

Gao's son Zhao Ming said he was detained at the same time as his mother on similar charges and later released.

Meanwhile, a source close to Gao, who is over 70, said she had been prevented from taking her own medications while in detention, a ruling which has also sparked concern in the cases of Pu Zhiqiang and Xu Youyu, relatives say.

China 'deteriorating'

Wang said the white paper made the mistake of confusing living standards and quality of life with human rights, and amounted to the party patting itself on the back.

"Human rights has to do with how large a social space is available to individual citizens ... and also to do with how many channels there are for the protection of their rights, particularly when faced with the government," Wang said.

"By these criteria, China is deteriorating."

Mo said any improvement in China's human rights record is unlikely in the absence of democratic and constitutional government.

"Dictatorial and authoritarian rule, whether by individuals or by parties and institutions, historically speaking, aren't the best kind of social system," he said.

Gao was first detained on June 3, 1989, as the PLA moved its tanks into the heart of Beijing, putting an end to weeks of occupation, mass protests and hunger strikes by students calling for democracy and the rule of law.

She was released after 450 days and jailed in November 1994 for "illegally providing state secrets to institutions outside China's borders," in connection with four articles she wrote in the Hong Kong-based Mirror Monthly magazine.

In 1997, she was presented with a U.S. $25,000 press freedom award in absentia by UNESCO Director General Fernando Mayor, sparking a furious reaction from Beijing.

Her detention has been criticized as a major blow to Chinese journalism.

Reported by He Ping for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Wen Yuqing and Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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