A new report by a human rights group focused on China shows that rights defenders have managed to expand their footholds and influence, despite intensified suppression by the regime’s vast “stability maintenance” apparatus, particularly around the Communist Party’s leadership reshuffle in November.
Titled “In the Name of ‘Stability,’” the 2012 annual report from Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRC) says rights defenders in China have adopted new advocacy strategies in their campaigns for increased liberties. The Internet generally, and especially the Weibo, or microblogging, platforms, have proven to be powerful tools for exposing official corruption and agitating for greater rights.
Dissidents interviewed by CHRC said 2012 was just as challenging as 2011, which was held as the most repressive year in the decade since rights activism took hold in China. Although the promising breakthroughs have led people to become more emboldened–both in public and cyberspace–political suppression is “relentless.”
The usual forms of harassment were in place, but with more than double 2011’s cases of “soft detention,” “residential surveillance,” and “enforced disappearance,” arbitrary forms of punishment that have now been codified in law. However, fewer officials sentenced rights defenders to re-education through labor (RTL), and the regime has made promissory remarks that it intends to abolish this extrajudicial system.
Chinese police have also adopted “movement management and control,” a fairly new cyber-surveillance system, for monitoring individuals, events, and groups. AIDS awareness group Aizhixing said in a recent report that police can now target anyone believed to pose a threat to “social order,” with the potential for far-reaching human rights infringements.
Notable prisoners of conscience remained locked up, such as dissident writer and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, whose wife has been under house arrest since his award, and human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, whose family remains uncertain of his wellbeing.
Although blind activist Chen Guangcheng escaped house arrest and, with U.S. assistance, even traveled with his wife to the United States to study, authorities appear to have retaliated against his nephew Chen Kegui, who was sentenced to more than three years in prison after he defended himself against armed officials who broke into his family home.
More than 80 Tibetans set themselves on fire last year, including monks and young people, to draw attention to the Communist Party’s repression of Tibetan religion and culture. The authorities responded by ramping up their crackdown on Tibetans—for example, introducing a new rule that anyone found to help a self-immolator would also be punished.
There was also an increase in self-harming among Han Chinese in 2012, with many becoming desperate over injustices committed against them by local officials. Suicides and attempted suicides by drinking pesticide were reported. Others were killed as developers took over property that had been seized by local authorities, as the number of violent confrontations surrounding land grabs increased.
The number of people who attempted to run as independent candidates in local People’s Congress elections reached a new high in 2012, and many leveraged the rhetoric of new Party leader Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign to call for high-ranking officials to publicly disclose their assets (though little progress has been made in making compulsory such disclosures). There was an increase in activists using the name of the constitution to fight back against rights abuses by police and officials, and in trainings by rights defenders and lawyers to share advocacy strategies.
Despite the harsh political climate, the citizenry made progress in some areas: Some local governments quietly provided adequate compensation for relocating peasants and demolishing their homes, or removed officials from their posts after misdeeds were exposed. Some activists were also released from labor camps earlier than had been expected. More lawsuits were filed against corrupt officials, with some civil rights lawyers even winning cases.
The report notes that rights defenders were broadly affected by four developments: increasing “enforced disappearances”; the regime’s promises to abolish or reform the re-education through labor system, which is still very much alive; flawed elections for local People’s Congress delegates; and forced psychiatric commitment not being prohibited by China’s first-ever Mental Health Law.
Various recommendations are proposed at the end of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders report, including a revision of the Mental Health Law, and the abolition of the RTL system, along with other forms of extralegal detention, such as “black jails” used to lock up petitioners.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 21 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.