'Increased Disregard of Law'

Human rights in the world’s most populous nation have worsened in 2011 amid a “troubling trend” in which officials themselves brush off the law when it suits them to silence dissent, a U.S. congressionally-mandated panel on China said in an annual report released Wednesday.

China’s human rights and rule of law record “has not improved“ and “appears to be worsening in some areas," said the Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC), which monitors human rights and the development of rule of law in the country.

In the 2011 annual report sent to the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama, CECC noted an emerging trend in China of “officials’ increased willingness to disregard the law when it suits them, particularly to silence dissent.”

It said that from February 2011, Chinese police took the unusual step of “’disappearing’ numerous lawyers and activists in one of the harshest crackdowns in recent memory.”

The report referred specifically to the disappearance of well-known artist and public advocate Ai Weiwei, who was held for 81 days before being released on the condition that he not speak about his experience.

There are some dissidents who had disappeared and their whereabouts remain unknown.

Following the crackdown, the Chinese government announced a draft revision to its Criminal Procedure Law that would legalize such disappearances.

The CECC also said that local officials showed little restraint in turning to illegal measures, including violence, to enforce sensitive government edicts such as the one-child family planning policy.

“Officials used violent methods to coerce citizens to undergo sterilizations or abortions or pay heavy fines for having ‘out-of-plan’ children,” the report said.

It said Beijing’s “lack of respect for the rule of law” was also evident in its international policies as the central government introduced domestic subsidies and industrial policies in violation of its commitments as a member of the World Trade Organization, the global trade watchdog.

‘Rule of law’

The Chinese government commonly cited the “law” as a basis for cracking down on peaceful protests, religious freedom, autonomy of ethnic groups, independently organized workers, and to clamp down on civil society organizations, it said.

The report said the Chinese government “threaten[ed] the viability of the language and culture of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongols, and other groups … [through the] imposition of Mandarin Chinese language in schools at the expense of other languages, the compulsory resettlement of large numbers of nomads, tight curbs over religious practice, and economic development projects that threatened livelihoods and sacred sites.”

In particular, it noted a series of regulations issued by the government in 2011 to tighten state control over Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, nunneries, monks, and nuns following an increase in anti-Chinese protests in the region.

The CECC also noted the continuation of “repressive security policies” targeting peaceful dissent, human rights advocacy, and expressions of cultural and religious identity enacted following demonstrations and riots in the Xinjiang region in 2009.

Party control

Meanwhile, the CECC said, the ruling, dominant Communist Party increased its monitoring of citizens and social groups and quashed efforts to organize independent political participation and advocacy for democracy.

“Top officials continued to insist that there would be no multiparty elections or separation of powers and that the goal of any political reform—whether it is of the political system or of the media—must be to strengthen, not weaken, the Party’s leadership,” the report said.

The CECC said Chinese officials maintained “heavy” censorship of the Internet, media, and publishing, in addition to limiting the coverage of public disasters and emergencies.

The report also noted some “hopeful” developments in China, most notably at the grassroots level, including an increased willingness on the part of citizens to publicly call for justice.

It pointed to the use of the Internet by netizens and journalists in outmaneuvering censors to raise questions about the handling of a high-speed rail crash and an incident in which church members defied an official ban on holding outdoor worship services in the capital.

But the CECC said that China also set “negative precedents for other countries and [in] reshaping international human rights standards to allow for China’s abuses.”

It noted China’s justification of its imprisonment of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, prodemocracy activist Liu Xiaobo, and the subsequent refusal of several governments to send representatives to the Nobel award ceremony in Oslo.

The commission asked the U.S. Congress and the government to press the Chinese government to “release immediately advocates who are in prison or detention and to adhere to fair trial standards and ensure procedural protections” for the 40-odd human rights advocates in cases that have already gone to trial.

Among other recommendations, it called for the establishment of exchanges between Chinese provincial law enforcement agencies and U.S. state law enforcement agencies to study policing, evidence collection, inmate rights, and other criminal justice reforms currently underway in China.

Reported in Washington by Joshua Lipes.