UK-China visit: Economic progress must not blind UK to human rights failings

Amnesty also highlighted the case of Zheng Enchong, a Shanghai lawyer jailed for defending human rights.

Amnesty International drew particular attention to:

  • Detention of Tiananmen prisoners: 16 years after the events in Tiananmen Square dozens of individuals remain in prison and the Chinese government refuses a full, independent and impartial investigation. Yu Dongyue, for example, remains in prison for having, together with two other young men, thrown paint on the portrait of Mao Zedong that hangs in Tiananmen Square.
  • Freedom of expression: in recent months the authorities have added new legal, technological, and political means of monitoring and restricting the flow of information and expression in various media, including restrictions in areas where citizens had earlier enjoyed freedoms, such as on private blogs on the internet.
  • "Re-education Through Labour" camps: moves by the Chinese authorities to abolish or reform Re-education Through Labour appear to have slowed over recent months. A proposal for a new law entitled “Illegal Behaviour Rectification Law” appears to fall short of international standards.
  • Ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR): China’s arbitrary detention of human rights defenders, the extensive use of the death penalty, of torture and other ill-treatment and the lack of immediate access to legal representation are all infringements of key fundamental rights protected by the ICCPR. Ratification of the Covenant would be an important step in committing the Chinese government to stop those practices. But, despite promises, it has not yet provided any concrete timeframe for ratification.

    Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Stephen Bowen said:

    “It’s imperative that Tony Blair raises human rights issues during this visit.

    “China still massively restricts freedom of expression and information, still executes more people than the rest of the world put together, and still harasses and detains people who stand up for human rights.

    “The economic progress of China must not blind the UK to the denial of people’s basic rights.”

    Amnesty International also called for the immediate release of Zheng Enchong, who was arrested on 6 June 2003 and accused of stealing ‘state secrets’ and passing them to ‘entities outside of China’. The ‘state secrets’ amounted to information about a labour protest in Shanghai that was broken up by police, which Zheng sent to the NGO Human Rights in China.

    Previously, Zheng Enchong had his licence to practice law revoked in 2001 after he advised more than 500 families displaced by Shanghai’s urban redevelopment projects on their rights to fair compensation from the authorities. He continued to give advice although his applications for reinstatement of his licence failed.

    Zheng Enchong was tried behind closed doors on 28 August 2003. His family were barred from the proceedings on the grounds that the case involved ‘state secrets’. More than 100 people, many of them people to whom Zheng had provided legal assistance, protested outside the court. The court found him guilty and on 28 October 2003 Zheng Enchong was sentenced to three years in prison.

    Since his arrest, members of his family have been harassed and his wife, Jiang Meili, has been detained at least three times. The prison director has told Zheng that his sentence could be reduced to one year if he admitted to his ‘crime’. Since refusing to do this, Zheng has been subjected to unfair treatment.

    Zheng is reportedly held in poor conditions, and his physical and mental health have deteriorated. His wife was able to visit him for less than 20 minutes in February 2004: she says that when asked if he was being mistreated, Zheng replied “there are many, many things I am unable to tell you.” A visit in November 2004 was ended by several guards manhandling Zheng out of the visitors’ room when he began to discuss his case with his wife.

    The call comes as part of Amnesty’s Protect the Human initiative, a new drive to get one million people in the UK standing up for humanity and human rights by 2010. Amnesty is asking people to join their appeal for Zheng by going to www.amnesty.org.uk/protect and writing an appeal to the authorities.

    Stephen Bowen said:

    “Zheng Enchong was a lawyer doing his job, arrested just for standing up for the rights of others.

    “There’s a grim irony when a man who has strived to give people access to the law is denied access to it himself.

    “We’re urging people in the UK to join Amnesty’s appeal on behalf of Zheng. The more people who join us in speaking out in defence of hard-won human rights, the louder our voice becomes.”

    In late 2004 and early 2005, several rights activists and dissidents were reportedly detained or placed under surveillance in their homes in China. The number of lawyers and other human rights defenders arbitrarily detained or imprisoned has continued to rise. Amnesty International continues to campaign against the harassment, intimidation and detention of people who stand up for the rights of others in China.

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