China is waging an "increasingly harsh repression" against Tibetans and ethnic Uyghurs, a U.S. State Department annual report on global human rights practices said Friday, highlighting what it calls deteriorating rights conditions in China as well as in Vietnam.
The report also said that rights conditions in North Korea are deplorable, while many elements of Burma's authoritarian structure "remain largely intact" more than two years after a nominally civilian government took over power in the Southeast Asian state after decades of brutal military rule.
In Cambodia, a weak judiciary that sometimes fails to provide due process or a fair trial procedure is a key human rights problem, while in Laos the denial of citizens' right to change their government, harsh prison conditions, and corruption in the police and judiciary are among the most significant rights issues, the report said.
But the rights crisis in China was on the spotlight as the report was released by Secretary of State John Kerry.
"The human rights environment in China continued to deteriorate in 2012," the report said.
Human rights related issues in the world's most populous nation included "a crackdown on human rights activists, increasingly harsh repression in ethnic Tibetan and Uyghur areas, greater efforts to censor online expression, and onerous restrictions on the operations of civil society," it said.
The report said China continued to implement official restrictions on the freedoms of expression, religion, association, and movement against ethnic Uyghurs in the restive Xinjiang region and Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region and in Tibetan prefectures in Chinese provinces.
"Members of these two communities experienced great difficulty acquiring passports, effectively limiting the ability of many of them to travel outside the country," it said.
In addition, it said, government monitoring and disruption of telephone and Internet communications were particularly widespread in Tibetan and Uyghur areas.
A total of 116 Tibetans have burned themselves to protest Chinese rule and policies, with many also calling for the return of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Chinese authorities have tightened controls in Tibetan-populated areas to check the self-immolations, cutting communication links with outside areas and jailing dozens of Tibetans they believe to be linked to the burnings.
In Xinjiang, rights groups complain that the Chinese authorities are indiscriminately jailing Uyghurs in the name of fighting terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism, and are intensifying the influx of Han Chinese in the region.
Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness.
Kerry had been accused by rights groups of giving low priority to the the rights situation in China when he visited the country earlier this month.
But Assistant Secretary of State Uzra Zeya, who took media questions on the rights report, said Kerry "made clear" U.S. concerns and "raised specific cases" with the Chinese government during the trip.
She specifically referred to the case of Chen Kegui, the jailed nephew of blind activist Chen Guangcheng who fled house arrest and sought refuge in the United States.
Kerry "raised the allegations of abuse during [Chen Kegui's] imprisonment and the harassment of his family," Zeya said.
Chen Kegui, who was sentenced to prison in November after being convicted for injuring officials who he said entered his home and attacked him and his family after they learned of his uncle’s flight, suffered physical abuse from authorities in jail, reports have said.
His four-year old school-going son was also a target of official harassment.
The U.S. report said the situation in Burma has improved following the end of military rule in March 2011, "but many elements of the country’s authoritarian structure—repressive laws, pervasive security apparatus, corrupt judiciary, restrictions on freedom of religion, and dominance of the military—remain largely intact."
Kerry said in his report launching speech that "corruption has to be rooted out" and "remaining political prisoners need to be freed" in Burma.
He cited the recent deadly communal violence in central Burma blamed on extremist Buddhist monks, saying it "is another distressing reminder" of how long it takes to build what French political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville called "the habits of the heart."
At least 43 people were reported dead and thousands, mostly Muslims, driven from their homes and businesses in the March violence.
"But if Burma’s leaders stay focused on promoting and protecting the rights of all people in their country, Burma is likely to continue along a promising path of renewal," Kerry said.
In North Korea, defectors reported extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detention, arrests of political prisoners, and torture, the report said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's regime "continued to control almost all aspects of citizens’ lives" and maintains "a vast network of political prison camps, in which conditions were harsh and life-threatening."
North Koreans, it said, risked punishment in order to obtain illegal radios, cell phones, and other multimedia devices that can increase their ability to communicate with each other and to a limited extent with the outside world.
In Vietnam, human rights conditions deteriorated in 2012, the report said.
Authorities restricted freedom of expression, imprisoned dissidents using vague national security legislation, harassed activists and their families, and disregarded the rule of law, it said.
They also increasingly detained and imprisoned dissidents who used the Internet to criticize the government and publish ideas on human rights and political pluralism, it said.
Freedom of religion, it said, continued to be subject to inconsistent interpretation and protection, with significant problems continuing, especially at provincial and village levels.