In the Name of “Stability”: 2012 Annual Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in China
on Mar 15, 2013
(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, March 15, 2013) – With a major change of the guard at the top echelon of China’s one-party power, 2012 was marked by authorities’ intensified attempts to thwart human rights activism but also impressive civil society campaigns that fought for rights protections. As illustrated in this CHRD report , human rights defenders (HRDs) expanded their footholds and made use of new advocacy strategies, while the government deployed its extensive “stability maintenance” apparatus to intimidate and punish Chinese citizens who tried to exercise basic liberties and defend fundamental human rights.
According to partial data and opinions gathered by the CHRD network, the year proved no less challenging for HRDs than 2011, which has been regarded as the most repressive year since rights activism in China’s civil society gained momentum a decade ago. Activists interviewed by CHRD indicated that the rights defense environment has grown both more promising and more treacherous, with HRDs becoming more emboldened while facing relentless political suppression. Available data from 2012 for several forms of harassment used against HRDs were similar to 2011, while cases of “enforced disappearance,” “soft detention,” and “residential surveillance” more than doubled. At the same time, available numbers reflect the strong perception that officials sent fewer HRDs to RTL as the system has come under unprecedented public scrutiny.
In 2012, there were more reports than ever of Han Chinese physically harming themselves in desperation and frustration over unresolved grievances. Some individuals were tragically killed while trying to protect housing or farmland that the government had authorized developers to destroy or take over. Also, more than 80 ethnic Tibetans self-immolated in 2012—and thousands took to the streets—to boldly oppose government suppression of their religion and culture. By the end of the year, the spike in self-immolations of Tibetans brought the sobering total to nearly 100, including both monks and lay people, who had set themselves on fire in political protest since March 2011. The government response to peaceful demonstrations and self-immolations has been to crack down only more severely against Tibetans.
Civil society groups in China, while growing into a stronger force for rights advocacy, were under steady assault in 2012, and regularly saw their work obstructed by authorities. Police continued to use a relatively new cyber-surveillance system—called “movement management and control”—to monitor individuals and specific groups, like drug users infected with HIV/AIDS, and also HRDs. The system appears to conceivably target any individual or group, and not only those who police believe pose threats to “social order” or whom authorities are already monitoring closely.
On a positive note, HRDs have been encouraged by the emergence of several advocacy campaigns that benefitted human rights activists. A bright spot for public awareness of political rights and emboldened efforts at democratization was the unprecedented number of citizens who tried to run as independent candidates in local People’s Congress elections. A civil society push for the government to publicly disclose information about the wealth of high-ranking officials had also taken off by the end of the year.
In addition, more activists used China’s Constitution and laws to fight police abuses and government infringement on human rights. Many activists leveraged laws and international human rights standards—and particularly the government’s commitments to such rights—to empower their pursuits of justice. More activists and lawyers than ever organized trainings inside China to share advocacy strategies with HRDs and other members of civil society.
And even under a harsh political climate, HRDs achieved impressive and positive outcomes. More local governments provided compensation for demolished housing and in some cases even removed officials for ordering the destructive acts. Several prominent HRDs have been released from RTL camps before their punishments were complete. In 2012, Chinese courts appeared to have docketed more lawsuits against officials accused of rights abuses—cases that courts would have categorically refused to hear in the past—and some human rights lawyers won such suits. Websites and weibo, China’s microblogging tool equivalent to Twitter, have proven to be potent tools in shaming and even toppling government officials over corruption scandals and abuses.
While raising awareness of high-profile cases of HRDs serving prison sentences in retaliation for exercising their constitutionally-protected rights, this report focuses on developments in four areas that had significant impact on the situation of HRDs in 2012:
• “Enforced disappearance,” which has become an increasingly common fate of HRDs and in effect became codified with the adoption of the revised Criminal Procedure Law;
• “Re-education through Labor,” the system of extrajudicial detention and forced labor that received enormous public criticism, and was eventually addressed by government officials pressured into breaking years of political taboo on the issue;
• Forced psychiatric commitment, which China’s first-ever Mental Health Law fails to prohibit as a tool of repression against HRDs whom police and other officials wish to silence; and
• Flawed elections for local People’s Congress delegates, which concluded in 2012 and made a mockery of what passes today as “participatory governance” for Chinese citizens, as seen in the harassment of citizens who tried to run as “independent candidates” unaffiliated with the Chinese Communist Party.
See partial data on harassment and persecution of HRDs compiled by the CHRD network
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