Chinese premier in UK: Gordon Brown urged to raise concern over growing crackdown on free speech- new Amnesty briefing

As Chinese premier Wen Jiabao comes to the UK this weekend (31 Jan to 2 Feb), Amnesty International UK is highlighting China’s growing crackdown on dissent and freedom of expression, including on the Internet, as a key issue that Gordon Brown must raise at their meeting. A new media briefing outlines Amnesty’s human rights concerns in China, including the death penalty, detention without trial and the persecution of people who stand up for human rights.

Amnesty International has discovered that its main website, www.amnesty.org , is once again blocked inside mainland China. Other sites recently blocked include the popular blog portal Bullog and those websites and blogs that have reprinted and collected signatures for Charter 08, a petition signed by many well-known academics and human rights activists proposing legal and political reform in China.

This year will see many notable anniversaries in China, including the 50th anniversary of the 1959 uprising in Tibet (10 March), the 20th anniversary of the crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen protests (4 June), the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China being founded (1 October) and the 30th anniversary of the “Democracy Wall” movement. China also faces a difficult economic year with rising unemployment. All could inspire protests and trigger government crackdowns.

China is up for scrutiny before the UN in February as part of the UN Universal Periodic Review and so increasing pressure from Brown on human rights would be particularly timely, says Amnesty. Last week the UK government published its four-year strategy on China, which states that “Greater respect for human rights is crucial,” and that “We will be candid and honest should we disagree – on issues such as human rights, for example”.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Chinese people have as much right to free speech and access to information as everyone else, and their government should respect this. This includes making up their own minds about what we are saying on the Amnesty website.

“Gordon Brown and other leaders failed to press the Chinese authorities to respect human rights ahead of the Olympics. The result was a Games that took place against a backdrop of repression. He must not miss this opportunity to speak up for the rights of people in China.”

Freedom of expression
Hundreds of websites are blocked or banned in China. Search results are filtered, with many websites censored, including those using words like ‘freedom’, ‘human rights’, ‘Tibet’ and ‘Amnesty International’. Internet users have been imprisoned after unfair trials, often on vaguely defined charges such as subversion or leaking state secrets. With around 30 journalists and 50 Internet users known to be behind bars, media freedom organisations have branded the Chinese authorities ‘the world’s leading jailer of journalists’. National journalists face severe restrictions and censorship, and those investigating stories deemed to be politically sensitive risk dismissal, intimidation, harassment or arrest.

Amnesty is calling on the Chinese authorities to end the unwarranted censorship of the Internet and other media in China.

Persecution of people who stand up for human rights
Amnesty International recently called for the release of Liu Xiaobo, a signatory of Charter 08 who is currently under “residential surveillance”, a form of house arrest without trial. Amnesty has learned that the Chinese authorities now consider Charter 08 a “counter-revolutionary platform” and fears that this could signal harsher treatment of signatories. Reports state that over 100 signatories of the Charter have been harassed or questioned by the authorities.

Activists who challenge policies deemed to be politically sensitive or who try to rally others to their cause continue to be harassed in China. Some have been imprisoned, often on vaguely defined charges of ‘subversion’ or ‘leaking state secrets’, while others are held under tight police surveillance as prisoners in their own homes. They include defence lawyers, journalists, HIV/AIDS activists, workers’ rights activists, villagers protesting against land seizures, and relatives of people killed or disabled during the crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy movement.

Amnesty is calling on the Chinese authorities to ensure that human rights defenders are free to carry out their peaceful activities and talk to foreign journalists without fear of arrest or harassment.

Death Penalty
Despite minor reforms, China still executes more people than any other country in the world, at least 470 people in 2007, though the real figure is likely to be far higher as statistics remain a state secret. Executions are carried out by a bullet to the back of the head and, increasingly, by lethal injection.

Many of China’s capital crimes, around 68 in total, are non-violent, including tax evasion, smuggling and organising prostitution. Two men were recently sentenced to death for their part in the ‘Baby Milk Scandal’ that hit China last year.

Amnesty is calling on the Chinese authorities to significantly reduce the use of the death penalty in China as a step towards abolition. It also urges the regular publication of official statistics on death sentences and executions and a reduction in the number of capital offences, particularly for non-violent crimes.

Detention without trial
“Re-education through labour” is a form of detention imposed without charge or trial for up to four years, often carried out in harsh conditions, and used against people deemed by the Chinese police to have committed offences not serious enough to be punished under the Criminal Law. It is frequently used against petty criminals, critics of the government or followers of banned beliefs.

Amnesty is calling on the Chinese authorities to abolish Re-education Through Labour, Residential Surveillance, Enforced Drug Rehabilitation and Custody and Education, ensuring that decisions on detention are no longer exclusively in the hands of the police.

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