A new report issued by Human Rights Watch declares that while recent reforms have ‘relaxed some restrictions on basic rights’, it is still safe to say that China is an authoritarian, one-party state. Not exactly breaking news, but it’s certainly worth a read.
The report summarizes recent developments in the classic fields: Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Religion, Tibet and Xinjiang. It also covers—with a not-so-subtle tone of skepticism—recent reforms like the easing of the one-child policy and (quasi) abolition of the “re-education through labor” (RTL) detention system. The report is pretty dense, so here are the good bits:
On China’s persecution of human rights activists:
One of the most severe crackdowns on these individuals in recent years occurred in 2013, with more than 50 activists put under criminal detention between February and October.
On the abolition of re-education through labor:
In November, the government announced its intention to abolish re-education through labor (RTL), a form of arbitrary detention in which the police can detain people for up to four years without trial. There were about 160,000 people in about 350 camps at the beginning of the year, but numbers dwindled rapidly as the police stopped sending people to RTL. The official press, however, reported that some of these facilities were being converted to drug rehabilitation centers, another form of administrative detention.
On the easing of the one-child policy:
While the government announced in November that Chinese couples will now be allowed two children if either parent was a single child, the measure does not change the foundations of China’s government-enforced family planning policy, which includes the use of legal and other coercive measures—such as administrative sanctions, fines, and coercive measures, including forced abortion—to control reproductive choices.
In 2013, over one hundred people—Uyghurs, Han, and other ethnicities—were killed in various incidents across the region, the highest death toll since the July 2009 Urumqi protests.
The excerpts above aren’t exactly cheery, but this year’s report isn’t as pessimistic as one might think: citing how Chinese citizens are “increasingly prepared to challenge authorities over volatile livelihood issues”, the report chronicles growing efforts by citizens from all levels of society—from LGBT activists to those steamed bun guys, even bank employees—to usher in reforms through the act of protests and strikes.
By Alex Stevens