China's ruling Communist Party kept up a "stranglehold" on dissidents and rights activists last year, subjecting thousands to arbitrary detention in labor camps and unofficial "black jails," while the rate of self-immolations among Tibetans continued to rise amid continuing cultural repression, a new human rights report said.
London-based rights group Amnesty International hit out at the growing number of self-immolations among Tibetans, which it said came amid continuing repression of Tibetans’ right to enjoy and promote their own culture as well as their rights to freedom of religion, expression, peaceful association, and assembly.
"During the year, at least 83 ethnic Tibetan monks, nuns and lay people set themselves on fire, bringing the total number of self-immolations in Tibetan populated areas in China to at least 95 since February 2009," the group said in its 2013 annual report.
Beijing-based Tibetan writer Woeser said the number of self-immolations during the whole of 2012 stood at 85, however.
Two monks burned themselves in protest in April this year, bringing to 118 the number of Tibetan self-immolations since the wave of fiery protests began in 2009.
"There are self-immolations every month," Woeser said, in reaction to the report. "What we are seeing is the use of self-immolation as a form of protest, and this was particularly so last year."
"That they choose such a means of protest, that they use their own lives in protest, shows the terrible situation in Tibetan areas," she said.
Authorities in Tibet also kept up a series of “patriotic” and “legal education” campaigns to force Tibetans to denounce the Dalai Lama, Amnesty International said, adding that officials stepped up interference in Buddhist monasteries.
Across the rest of China, the government continued to use the criminal justice system to punish its critics, the report said.
"Hundreds of individuals and groups were sentenced to long prison terms or sent to Re-education Through Labour (RTL) camps for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of belief," it said.
Many of those handed lengthy jail terms for “endangering state security,” “inciting subversion of state power” and “leaking state secrets” had simply made online posts, or communicated information overseas that was deemed sensitive, the report said.
Online activist Wu Bin, known by his nickname "Xiucai Jianghu," said the state had definitely stepped up its security activities targeting those who spoke out online.
"I definitely felt that," Wu said. "I was subjected to plenty of persecution."
"My online accounts were blocked and I was hounded in various aspects of my life," he said. "Sometimes they confiscated my cell phone; at other times they took my computer and ID card."
"Things are getting more and more intense," he said.
Targeted for punishment
Wu said China's army of petitioners—many of whom pursue complaints against the government over forced evictions, wrongful detention, physical attacks and deaths in custody—are increasingly targeted by police and officials for punishment.
"You are supposed to be allowed to oppose the Party and the government, and yet if you go and complain, they detain you and bring you home or throw you in a black jail," he said.
"A lot of petitioners have told me that their human rights have been violated, with illegal detentions and horrific treatment inside them," he added.
The authorities earmarked 701 billion yuan (U.S. $112 billion) in funding for "stability maintenance," an increase of over 30 billion from 2011, the Amnesty International report said.
While criminal laws had been revised to strengthen protection of minors and the mentally ill, police had also been authorized to detain people in secret for up to six months for some crimes, including "endangering state security," it said.
Such detentions could be carried out without notifying the suspect’s family of the location or reasons for detention, potentially legalizing enforced disappearance, the report said.
Reported by Hai Nan and Wei Ling for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.