China: Prison, torture and death for people standing up for human rights

They include:

  • a 45-year-old man imprisoned for revealing the demolition of Protestant churches and repression of religion;
  • another detained for protesting at the forced relocation of families from Beijing, often to make way for venues for the 2008 Olympics;
  • and others protesting at the appalling working conditions that claim 350 lives every day in China’s dangerous workplaces.

Chinese law contains sweeping definitions of crimes, such as ‘subversion’ and ‘stealing state secrets’, which can be used to detain and imprison people simply for engaging in legitimate human rights activities. Activists have also frequently been subject to arbitrary detention, harassment, and intimidation.

Amnesty International Media Director Mike Blakemore said:

“A growing number of people in China are standing up and demanding the basic rights that we in Europe take for granted. For doing so, they face arrest, torture and even death.

“The very least that the EU should do is to call on the Chinese authorities to release those imprisoned for peaceful human rights campaigning.”


In Beijing, the city is being rapidly redeveloped in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Houses have been demolished in various parts of the city to make way for new construction projects.

Residents are generally relocated to housing on the outskirts of the city, often reportedly of poor quality, and people are paid a token amount of compensation.

Real-estate companies – often owned by or affiliated with the local authorities who evicted the tenants – may then sell the land to property developers for a large profit.

Ye Guozhu was detained in Beijing in August 2004 and charged with “disturbing social order”, having tried to gain permission through official channels to stage a demonstration with fellow-petitioners to publicly protest against forced evictions and inadequate compensation.

Ye was reportedly tried on charges of “disturbing social order” at the end of November 2004, but at the time of this report’s release the verdict had not been reported.

Workers’ Rights

China’s work safety record is one the worst in the world. According to official statistics, in the first six months of 2004 there were 426,283 accidents at its work places which on average led to 350 deaths a day. “Serious accidents on the decline”, Xinhua, 19 July 2004.

Zhang Shanguang is one of the most outspoken defenders of workers’ rights in China. In 1998 he tried to form the Shu Pu Association for the Protection of the Rights of Laid-off Workers in Hunan Province in central China, and spoke to foreign media about peasant and labour unrest in Hunan.

Zhang Shanguang was detained in July 1998 and sentenced in December of the same year to 10 years’ imprisonment for “providing state secrets for an organisation outside the country”. He is due for release in July 2008.

While in prison Zhang Shanguang has reportedly been beaten, shackled and forced to work for long hours. He suffers from tuberculosis which he contracted while he was previously imprisoned for seven years for criticizing the government for the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square.


In July 2004, China’s official press reported that Jiang Zongxiu, a 34-year-old woman detained when handing out Bibles in Guizhou Province in mid-June, was beaten to death in police custody on the day she was detained. Chinese woman “beaten to death” after arrest for handing out Bibles, AFP, 4 July 2004.

A strategy commonly used by the authorities to stop “illegal religious activities” is to simply demolish places of worship. For example, in June and July 2001, thousands of Tibetan monks and nuns were evicted from the Serthar Buddhist institute in a traditionally Tibetan area of Sichuan Province, and homes and other buildings were destroyed. Similarly, in the XUAR, home to the mainly Muslim ethnic Uighur community, large numbers of unofficial mosques have been closed down and independent Imams have been arrested.

In August 2004, three Christian underground church leaders were sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to three years on charges of “supplying state secrets to foreign entities” having documented the demolition of churches in Jiangsu and Hebei Province, and the detention of around 300 members of the churches’ congregations. Liu Fenggang, Xu Yonghai and Zhang Shengqi had sent details of the demolitions and detentions to a US-based Christian publication.

Tiananmen Square

Hu Jia, aged 31, was placed under house arrest on 28 May 2004 after publicly stating his intention to light a candle in Tiananmen Square in memory of those who were killed. He was reportedly told that he could not leave his apartment until 10 June 2004 and threatened with being sent to a psychiatric institution if he persisted with any attempts to publicly mark the 4 June anniversary.

Hu Jia claimed that he was beaten by police when he attempted to leave his home, resulting in cuts to his forehead and red marks on his neck and chest.

Hu Jia is a prominent HIV/AIDS activist in China. His detention on 28 May also appeared to be an attempt to prevent him meeting the US Ambassador during a visit to villages affected by HIV/AIDS in Henan Province.

Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all those detained for peaceful human rights activities, and reform of the laws used to imprison them. The organisation’s members across the world are writing to the Chinese authorities raising these cases and calling for action.

The report is available online at:

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