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U.S. Department of State, 2015 Human Rights in China, April 13, 2016

This report is produced annually by the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

April 13, 2016

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The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the paramount authority. CCP members hold almost all top government and security apparatus positions. Ultimate authority rests with the 25-member Political Bureau (Politburo) of the CCP and its seven-member Standing Committee. Xi Jinping held the three most powerful positions as CCP general secretary, state president, and chairman of the Central Military Commission. Civilian authorities maintained control of the military and internal security forces.
Repression and coercion markedly increased during the year against organizations and individuals involved in civil and political rights advocacy and public interest and ethnic minority issues. The crackdown on the legal community was particularly severe, as individual lawyers and law firms that handled cases the government deemed “sensitive” were targeted for harassment and detention, with hundreds of lawyers and law associates interrogated, investigated, and in many cases detained in secret locations for months without charges or access to attorneys or family members. Officials continued to harass, intimidate, and prosecute family members and associates to retaliate against rights advocates and defenders. Individuals and groups regarded as politically sensitive by authorities faced tight restrictions on their freedom to assemble, practice religion, and travel. Authorities resorted to extralegal measures, such as enforced disappearance and strict house arrest, including house arrest of family members, to prevent public expression of critical opinions. Five men working in Hong Kong’s publishing industry disappeared between October and December from Thailand, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen; it was believed that PRC security officials were responsible for their disappearances. Authorities continued to censor and tightly control public discourse on the internet and in print and other media. There was severe official repression of the freedoms of speech, religion, association, and assembly of Uighurs in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and of Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas. These minorities continued to face severe restrictions on movement. Officials also approved expedited judicial procedures and in some cases mass trials for Uighur terrorism suspects in the XUAR. Rights abuses in minority areas peaked around high-profile events, such as the visit of foreign officials, national meetings, commemorations, and high-profile trials.
As in previous years, citizens did not have the right to change their government and had limited forms of redress against official abuse. Other human rights abuses during the year included alleged extrajudicial killings; executions without due process; prolonged illegal detentions at unofficial holding facilities known as “black jails”; torture and coerced confessions of prisoners; detention and harassment of lawyers who took on “sensitive” cases, journalists, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others whose actions the authorities deemed unacceptable ; lack of due process in judicial proceedings; political control of courts and judges; closed trials; the use of administrative detention; failure to protect refugees and asylum seekers; extrajudicial disappearances of Chinese and foreign citizens; restrictions on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); discrimination against women, minorities, and persons with disabilities; a coercive birth-limitation policy that, despite the lifting of one-child-per-family restrictions, in some cases resulted in forced abortion (sometimes at advanced stages of pregnancy); and trafficking in persons.
Authorities prosecuted a number of abuses of power through the court system, particularly with regard to corruption, but in most cases the CCP first investigated and punished officials using opaque and selectively applied internal party disciplinary procedures. Citizens who promoted independent efforts to combat abuses of power were sometimestargeted by authorities.
The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan autonomous prefectures (TAPs) and counties in other provinces to be a part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) Central Committee oversees Tibet policies. As in other predominantly minority areas of the PRC, ethnic Han CCP members held almost all top party, government, police, and military positions in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Ultimate authority rests with the 25-member Central Committee Political Bureau (Politburo) of the CCP and its seven-member Standing Committee in Beijing. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.
The government’s respect for, and protection of, human rights in the TAR and other Tibetan areas remained poor. Under the professed objectives of controlling border areas, maintaining social stability, and combating separatism, the government engaged in the severe repression of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage by, among other means, strictly curtailing the civil rights of China’s Tibetan population, including the freedoms of speech, religion, association, assembly, and movement. The government routinely vilified the Dalai Lama and blamed the “Dalai [Lama] Clique” and “other outside forces” for instigating instability.
Other serious human rights abuses included extrajudicial detentions, disappearances, and torture. There was a perception among many Tibetans that authorities systemically targeted them for political repression, economic marginalization, and cultural assimilation, as well as educational and employment discrimination. The presence of the People’s Armed Police (PAP) and other security forces remained at high levels in many communities on the Tibetan Plateau, particularly in the TAR. Repression was severe throughout the year but increased in the periods before and during politically and religiously sensitive anniversaries and events. Authorities detained individuals in Tibetan areas after they reportedly protested against government or business actions, or expressed their support for the Dalai Lama.
The government strictly controlled information about, and access to, the TAR and some Tibetan areas outside the TAR, making it difficult to determine fully the scope of human rights problems. The Chinese government severely restricted travel by foreign journalists to Tibetan areas. Additionally, the Chinese government harassed or detained Tibetans who spoke to foreign reporters, attempted to provide information to persons abroad, or communicated information regarding protests or other expressions of discontent through cell phones, e-mail, or the internet. With the exception of a few highly controlled trips, the Chinese government also denied multiple requests by foreign diplomats for permission to visit the TAR. Because of these restrictions, many of the incidents and cases mentioned in this report could not be verified independently.
Disciplinary procedures were opaque, and there was no publicly available information to indicate that security personnel or other authorities were punished for behavior defined under Chinese laws and regulations as abuses of power and authority.
Hong Kong is a special administrative region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong and the SAR’s charter, the Basic Law of the SAR (also known as the Basic Law), specify that the SAR will enjoy a high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework except in matters of defense and foreign affairs. In 2012 a Chief Executive Election Committee composed of 1,193 members selected C.Y. Leung as the SAR’s third chief executive (CE). The Legislative Council (LegCo), consisting of a combination of 40 seats directly elected by voters and 30 seats selected by limited franchise functional constituencies that generally supported the government in Beijing, was elected in September 2012. In November voters directly elected all 431 district councilors who advise the Hong Kong government on how policies and operations impact their constituents but do not have any lawmaking power themselves. This marked the first time since 1997 that the CE’s office did not appoint any councilors to serve in their respective districts. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Following 79 days of prodemocracy protests that ended in December 2014, which at their peak drew more than 100,000 residents onto the streets, the Hong Kong government put forward a reform package for implementing universal suffrage in the election of the chief executive in 2017. Conforming to narrow restrictions dictated by the National People’s Congress in August 2014, the reform package had stipulated that only two or three candidates could stand for general election by universal suffrage and only after they had secured the support of more than half of the members of a generally pro-Beijing nominating committee. Critics maintained these reforms would have introduced overly narrow restrictions on who could stand for general election, and on June 18, the Legislative Council rejected the package.
The most important human rights problems reported were the limited ability of citizens to participate in and change their government through free and fair elections, limitations on freedom of the press and expression, including new concerns about academic freedom, apparent extrajudicial disappearances of five publishers of books critical of the Communist Party leadership, and incidents of violence against the media.
Other human rights problems included denial of visas for political reasons, arbitrary arrest or detention, other aggressive police tactics hampering the freedom of assembly, trafficking in persons, and societal prejudice against certain ethnic minorities.
The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses.
Macau is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and enjoys a high degree of autonomy, except in defense and foreign affairs, under the SAR’s constitution (the Basic Law). A 400-member Election Committee re-elected Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on in August 2014. Macau residents elected 14 of 33 Legislative Assembly representatives in 2013, with seven representatives appointed by the chief executive and 12 selected by functional constituencies. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Prominent human rights problems reported during the year included limits on citizens’ ability to change their government, constraints on press and academic freedom, and failure to enforce fully laws regarding workers’ rights.
Trafficking in persons remained a problem, although authorities were building capacity to pursue trafficking cases. While there were continuing concerns that national security legislation could compromise various civil liberties, by year’s end prosecutors had filed no cases based on the legislation.
The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses.
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