Torture of Activists on the Rise

A rights group says there has been a jump in cases of arbitrary detention and torture in China.

A petitioner (C) is pushed away by a security guard outside the Shanghai Pudong New Area People's Court, Feb. 22, 2012

Last year saw a sharp increase in the use of arbitrary detention and torture by Chinese authorities against rights activists, according to a Hong Kong-based rights group.

In a report issued at the weekend, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group said it had documented 3,833 incidences of individuals arbitrarily detained for their work in defense of human rights and 159 incidences of torture during such detentions in 2011.

"Common abuses included beatings, being forced to remain in stress positions for long periods of time, sleep deprivation, and denial of access to medical treatment," CHRD said in its annual report.

"Activists also routinely faced violence from government personnel while carrying out their work."


The report cited the case of Sichuan-based activist Zuo Xiaohuan, who was beaten by guards and fellow prisoners in July 2011, before being shackled to his bed for 11 days.

"After this torture, he was unable to stand, and more than 10 days later he was still barely able to walk," the report said.

Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Tang Jingling was subjected to more than a week's sleep deprivation during his detention in August 2011, the report said.

It said Beijing human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong was severely beaten over two nights, deprived of sleep for five days and forced to sit motionless for up to 15 hours a day in a room where the curtains were permanently closed.

"He was subjected to relentless interrogation, with brainwashing techniques used to “educate” him into repenting his so-called mistakes," the report said.

"Jiang said he was not permitted to reply 'I don’t know' to any questions neither was he allowed to make any 'errors' in his responses, otherwise he would be subjected to further threats and humiliation," it said.

Ill in prison

Meanwhile, in the central province of Hunan, village activist Xiang Songmei was denied medical treatment after she fell seriously ill in prison on Oct. 25, 2011.

Of the recorded cases of detention, 3,289 cases were without basis in Chinese law. Such cases included 2,795 detentions in "black jails," or unofficial detention centers, which can mean anything from purpose-built facilities to ramshackle warehouse buildings or specially commandeered guesthouses.

It also recorded 163 cases of detention at home, and 25 cases of enforced travel.

Most of the detentions came against a backdrop of the wave of Arab Spring protests that swept across North Africa and the Middle East, CHRD said.

"Anonymous online calls in China for 'Jasmine rallies' clearly unnerved the government," the group said in an e-mailed statement.

It said dozens of human rights activists, lawyers, and outspoken intellectuals were 'disappeared' and tortured, while several veteran democracy activists were sentenced to long prison terms.

"The extent to which torture, enforced disappearance, and arbitrary detention is routinely used by the authorities to penalize activists is truly alarming,” said the group's international director Renee Xia.

"CHRD’s survey provides new evidence that the Chinese government has utterly failed to honor international obligations to protect human rights defenders," she said.


Sichuan-based activist Huang Qi, who runs the Tianwang rights website, said he largely agreed with the findings of the report.

"It's right to say that a key characteristic of the worsening of China's human rights situation last year was the rapid rise in physical attacks on ordinary people," Huang said. "I think we can say that most people never imagined this would happen."

However, Huang said that ordinary Chinese people, as opposed to dissidents and intellectuals, had borne the brunt of the crackdown on dissent.

"The rights and interests of more than 50 million people have been infringed over the issue of land grabs and forced evictions," Huang said. "When those people try to use legal means to protect their rights, they are subjected to illegal detention, kidnappings, beating and even disappearances during the course of their petitioning."

"For some people this pressure has resulted in serious injury or death," he said. "The oppression of the people is far, far worse than it has been in past decades."

Reported by Gao Shan for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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