China and Human Rights

Although China’s non-intervention policies towards Iraq and Iran are to be commended and it often has a positive role in international relations, it’s human rights record at home is among the worst in the world.

China is ruled by the Communist Party of China. No other parties are legal, there are only elections within and to this party. Over recent years China has begun a market transformation, which has raised living standards for millions of it’s citizens, and has made moves to recognise human rights and basic freedoms. However, The Peoples Republic of China (PRC) is known for its extremely limited tolerance of organized dissent towards the government. Dissident groups are routinely arrested and imprisoned, often for long periods of time and without trial. Incidents of torture, forced confessions and forced labour are widespread.

Death Penalty

The government has recently introduced laws outlawing torture and summary executions, but they are yet to be enforced. State-run media reported that 460 people were killed by law enforcement officials in 2003 and more than 4,000 cases of official abuse, including torture and extracting confessions through coercion, from 2001 to 2003 . Several hundred Falun Gong adherents have reportedly died in detention due to torture, abuse, and neglect since the crackdown on Falun Gong began in 1999. Some groups based abroad estimated that as many as 2,000 Falun Gong practitioners have died as a result of official persecution. Overall, PRC executes between 3,000 and 10,000 people a year, many after unfair trials.

There has been some progress. Last year the Government issued new regulations governing the length and conditions of interrogation for pre-trial detainees, including protections for pregnant women, juveniles, and the elderly. Police officers who tortured suspects faced dismissal and criminal prosecution in some cases. For example, in June two police officers in Bazhou, Hebei Province, were sentenced to life in prison and a suspended death sentence after torturing a suspect to death and hiding the body in 2001.

The laws against ‘counter-revolutionary activity’ have recently been repealed, but 500 to 600 individuals continue to serve sentences for this. Many of these people were imprisoned for the non-violent expression of their political views. Last year PRC announced that it will end the tradition of imprisoning people in forced labour camps without charge or trial. ‘Re-education through labour’ is a system that has been used for many years to detain hundreds of thousands of people for up to four years without charge or trial, often making goods for export. There are over 2 million people in prison in china, most in forced labour, and the government denies access to UN or NGO observers to establish what proportion of these are political in nature and the conditions they are in.

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of assembly and association are extremely limited where it does not serve the state. There is no right to organisation of labour, strike, or even to associate to discuss such ideas. The Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, with an estimated death toll of around 2000 and injuries from 7,000 to 10,000, is probably the most famous example of this kind of abuse. Martial law was declared on over a million pro democracy demonstrators in Beijing, which were suppressed with live fire and tanks. People are still routinely detained for attempting to organise peaceful commemoration of this event.

Censorship is widespread. Most of the media is either state run or subject to extreme pressure to support the government. References to democracy, the Free Tibet movement, Taiwan as an independent state, certain religious organizations and anything remotely questioning the legitimacy of the Communist Party of China are banned from use in publications and blocked on the Internet. Recently, western web companies such as MSN and Google have come under criticism for participating in government censorship in their Chinese services.


Since the PRC’s invasion in 1951 of the historically independent region of Tibet (with it’s own language and alphabet) traditional religious and cultural activities have been suppressed. Over the following 10 years, hundreds of thousand ethnic Tibetans disappeared from the region, opinion differs how this divides between those who where imprisoned, killed or fled. Subsequent state sponsored migration of millions of other ethnic groups from across China has seriously altered the Tibetan way of life. Although China now claims to recognise Tibet as an autonomous region with religious freedom, it falls far short of what the Tibetan people are demanding. There is still no serious dialogue with the Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, for a political solution

Suppression is also widespread in the mainly Muslim region of Xinjiang. The state monitors and regulates: religious activity; teaching, places of worship and the printing of Muslim literature. Protests against this control or attempts to contact international media are greeted with indefinite detention and intimidation. Muslim literature not printed by the state is confiscated and the printers closed down.

China is realising that it’s attitude to individual freedom is incompatible with it’s desire to engage with the world community and develop it’s economy. It has started to engage with world norms, but is still built on decades of totalitarian suppression of it’s people, and it will be a long time before it recovers, even if the political will is maintained.


Amnesty International

US State Department

Human Rights Watch

Wikipedia’s entry on human rights in china

Free Tibet website

An Article from China Daily in support of China