Chinese lawyers, activists question Beijing report on rights record

China has released an annual report extolling the country’s “unique pattern of protecting human rights.” But activists and lawyers say 2014 was “appalling” for the country’s human rights record.

Beijing (dpa) – China released a report listing improvements last year in the protection of its citizens’ freedoms of speech and belief, and the development of democracy and rule of law.

“The tremendous achievements China has made in its human rights endeavors fully demonstrate that it is taking the correct path of human rights development that suits its national conditions,” said the white paper published Monday by the State Council Information Office.

The annual report came days after authorities detained several activists for online comments and activities linked to the 26th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 military crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, according to Radio Free Asia.

Rights groups and lawyers on Monday said the white paper was “contentious” and misrepresented a year that saw a widening crackdown on human rights and civil liberties in China.

“The human rights record last year was particularly appalling, even compared to China’s poor human rights records in previous years,” said Maya Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“In 2014 the government detained a large number of activists, tightened or passed new regulations to restrict freedom of the press and freedom of speech on the internet and in universities, and made significant moves to push people to adhere strictly to Party ideology, as exemplified by Document No. 9,” Wang told dpa.

Wang was referring to a leaked internal document that discussed political threats to the ruling Communist Party including “Western constitutional democracy,” the promotion of “universal values” and civil society.

Veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu was detained last year and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment in April for leaking state secrets, although the court did not release details on what Gao was accused of leaking. Because of the timing of her arrest, some observers speculated Gao was accused of leaking Document No. 9.

Amnesty International and other rights groups said Gao was a victim of arbitrary state-secret laws which could become more wide-reaching if China passes a new law on national security.

An article in the draft law, posted on the national legislature’s website last month, asks Chinese people to defend against and resist “negative cultural seepage.”

Monday’s white paper also said China’s legal reforms gained momentum last year, citing the October adoption by the leadership of a blueprint to promote the rule of law.

The objective was to protect civic rights, defend human dignity and put basic human rights into practice, the report said.

However, Chinese lawyers say not much has changed, while working conditions for some have worsened.

“Authorities have done a lot of work on paper, but at this point, very little has changed in actual practice,” human rights lawyer Mo Shaoping told dpa.

“The main problem is that some authorities do not abide by the law, and this hasn’t been improved and has even retrogressed,” the Beijing-based lawyer said.

“For example the right of lawyers to meet their clients is protected by law, however, many local authorities forbid lawyers to meet their clients.”

Shang Baojun, who specializes in criminal law, also said he noticed no improvement.

“There is loose enforcement and no legal accountability when laws are broken,” he said.

The white paper also comes as opposition grows to a national draft law that would restrict activities of foreign non-governmental organizations and give local police greater powers to oversee them and their local partners.

In Hong Kong, legislators are preparing to vote next week on a election reform plan proposed by Beijing last August that sparked five months of protests demanding freer selection of candidates.

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