China: New report slams Chinese failure to make promised human rights reforms

Man imprisoned and tortured for complaining about eviction to make way for Olympic development

With 687 days to go before the start of the Beijing Olympics, Amnesty International today (21 September) criticised China’s failure to honour human rights promises, as the organisation released a new assessment of the Chinese government's performance in four benchmark areas of human rights.

The report examines key issues of concern in China: the death penalty; justice (fair trials, torture and imprisonment without charge); media freedom; and the treatment of human rights activists.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“China’s promises to improve human rights, made when it was bidding for the Olympics, have simply not been honoured.

“Thousands of people are executed every year after unfair trials; people are tortured in prisons and thrown in jail just for peacefully standing up for human rights. And the authorities continue to harass and imprison journalists and internet users – hardly the ‘complete media freedom’ that the government has spoken of.

"The current state of affairs runs counter to the most basic interpretation of the 'Olympic spirit', which has the 'preservation of human dignity' at its very heart."

Amnesty International has sent its findings to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has said it would act if human rights commitments by China were not upheld in practice. Amnesty is urging the IOC to use its influence with the Chinese authorities and to speak out on behalf of individuals such as Ye Guozhu.

Ye Guozhu was forcibly evicted when his home became part of a site for development in preparation for the Olympic Games. He was sentenced to four years' imprisonment after he sought permission to organize a demonstration in Beijing with other victims of forced evictions in December 2004. Amnesty International considers Ye Guozhu a prisoner of conscience. It has recently emerged that Ye has been tortured in detention, including being suspended from the ceiling by his arms and suffering beatings with electro-shock batons.

As well as carrying out forced evictions from Olympic related sites, Beijing city authorities have decided that in order to clean up the city's image in the run-up to the Olympics, targets of 're-education through labour' - imprisonment without charge - should to be expanded to include 'unlawful advertising or leafleting, unlicensed taxis, unlicensed businesses, vagrancy and begging'.

Kate Allen added:

“Unless basic human rights are urgently improved, China’s gleaming Olympic stadiums will hide a brutal reality of injustice, execution, torture and repression.

"We urge the Chinese authorities to press ahead with its promises to improve human rights so that when August 2008 arrives the Chinese people can be proud in every respect of what their country has to offer the world."

Notes to Editors

Amnesty International is publishing regular assessments of four key areas for human rights reform in the run-up to the Olympics. These form a core component of the organisation's broader agenda for human rights reform in China. In this latest assessment, some of the main developments and recommendations are as follows:

The death penalty

  • The death penalty continues to be applicable to around 68 offences, including crimes such as tax fraud and drug offences. Between eight and ten thousand people are executed each year, according to estimates by Chinese academics.
  • No-one sentenced to death receives a fair trial. Failings include lack of prompt access to lawyers, no presumption of innocence and the use of evidence extracted under torture.
  • The practice of extracting organs from executed prisoners remains widespread; new regulations in July 2006 only deal with transplants from live donors.
  • In a positive development, the Supreme People's Court is to reinstate its power of final review and approval of all executions -- hopefully leading to a reduction in death sentences.

Amnesty International calls on the government to increase transparency by publishing full national statistics on death sentences and executions as a step towards full abolition.

Fair trials, torture and imprisonment without charge ('administrative detention')

  • Hundreds of thousands of people are believed to be held in 're-education through labour' facilities and other forms of imprisonment without charge across the country.
  • Police have unchecked power to impose sentences of up to three years for 'minor offences'.
  • Those imprisoned at such facilities are at high risk of torture or ill-treatment, especially if they resist 'reform'.

Amnesty International calls for the abolition of 're-education through labour' and other forms of administrative detention.

Human rights activists and defenders

  • People are increasingly airing complaints in public: there were 87,000 protests, demonstrations and other 'public order disturbances' in 2005, compared with 74,000 in 2004, according to government figures.
  • Activists, including lawyers and journalists, face severe obstacles in drawing attention to abuses - they are harassed, arbitrarily detained and tortured.
  • May 2006 regulations for lawyers tighten official controls and may dissuade lawyers from representing victims of human rights abuses at the local level.

Amnesty International calls on the government to change vaguely-worded clauses in the Criminal Law, such as 'leaking state secrets abroad' and 'subverting state power', which are often used to suppress legitimate human rights activities.

Media freedom

  • The websites of hundreds of international organisations remain blocked by the Chinese authorities and numerous Chinese websites have been closed down over the past year.
  • Police have detained foreign journalists on at least 38 occasions over the last 2 years, according to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Beijing.
  • Chinese authorities have intensified controls over Chinese media outlets in the past year, closing publications such as Freezing Point (Bingdian) and dismissing critical journalists.

Amnesty International calls on the government to release all journalists detained for their peaceful reporting activities and to ensure both domestic and foreign journalists are able to cover issues of public concern without censorship.

The President of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, has regularly referred to China's human rights commitments when questioned publicly about China and the Olympics. On the BBC Hardtalk programme in April 2002, he promised to act if human rights in China were not acted upon to his satisfaction.

Read a copy of the report The Olympics countdown – failing to keep human rights promises

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