China’s “Future Leaders” Lack Commitment to Human Rights

Comments Off on China’s “Future Leaders” Lack Commitment to Human Rights

China’s “Future Leaders” Lack Commitment to Human Rights

Party Congress Decision Shows Human Rights are Not a Priority

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, October 31, 2007) – The just-concluded 17th Chinese Communist Party Congress confirmed another five-year term for Hu Jintao as Party General Secretary. Four new members were appointed to the nine-member Standing Committee of the Politburo, China’s most powerful political organ. Among the four were two men considered the most likely successors to Hu, Li Keqiang and Xi Jinping.

CHRD is concerned that the provinces where the two men were Party bosses had poor human rights records during their tenure and those responsible for the violations committed under their leadership were not held accountable. Li was the Party leader of Henan Province and then Liaoning Province, while Xi was the Party leader of Zhejiang Province and then Shanghai.

Chinese human rights activists see this decision of the Congress to promote the two men as one indication of the Chinese leadership’s lack of commitment to improving human rights. It does not bode well for the future of human rights protection in China, if indeed one of these two eventually takes over from Hu.

Rights Abuses in Henan and Liaoning during Li Keqiang’s Tenure

From 1998 to 2004, Li Keqiang held the top political positions in Henan Province.[1] In December 2004, he became Part Secretary of Liaoning Province.[2]

In Henan, he presided over the cover-up of what Human Rights Watch has called “one of the world’s most disastrous and preventable HIV/AIDS catastrophes.” In the early 1990s, a highly profitable unregulated blood plasma trade in which the government played a major role led to the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS. After authorities discovered the extent of the disaster in 1995, the blood trade was outlawed, but little was done to hold government-run blood stations accountable, to prevent the spread of the virus, or to treat those infected. This pattern continued during the first part of Li’s rule: HIV-positive villagers were arrested and beaten for trying to draw attention to their plight. Doctors, activists, and even health officials were harassed, sued and kept under surveillance for speaking out. Journalists were fired for trying to cover the story. AIDS experts, humanitarian organizations and foreign diplomats were refused access to AIDS-affected areas. Two prominent cases were those of Gao Yaojie, a doctor and HIV/AIDS activist, and Ma Shiwen, Deputy Director of Henan’s Office of Disease Control. Gao was amongst the first to expose the scale of the epidemic. She has been persistently harassed and shadowed by Henan officials for her activism. In 2003, Ma was detained several times on suspicion of circulating state secrets in relation to his efforts to address the epidemic. Even after Beijing finally acknowledged the severity of the epidemic in 2003, journalists and independent researchers continued to be denied access to the hardest hit areas and organizations working with HIV-infected people were routinely harassed.

According to several sources, Li’s time in Henan was marked by suppression of freedom of religion. A large proportion of the dozens of political prisoners in Henan between 1998 and 2002 were allegedly detained for being members of Falun Gong or involved in unauthorized religious activities such as house churches. In September 2003, Zhang Yinan, a house church historian, and Xiao Biguang, legal advisor to the South China Church, were detained in Henan Province. Xiao was released after a few weeks in detention, but Zhang was sentenced to two years of Re-education through Labor for “subverting the government and social order.”

Li moved to Liaoning Province in December 2004.

Starting in 2006, Liaoning Province received several hundred million reminbi from the central government to demolish slums in Shenyang and other cities and relocate slum residents to proper housing, to be provided by the government. In the process, rich people who did not live in the slums bribed local officials for title to newly built houses on slum land. For the real residents of the slums, a well-intended program of relocation reportedly turned into malicious forced demolitions. Water, gas and electricity supplies were terminated before the residents relocated. Residents dissatisfied with the compensation were threatened and beaten and their houses were demolished.

Li’s tenure in Liaoning was also marked by a series of severe industrial accidents spanning a wide range of industries. Between 2004 and 2007, fireworks explosions killed thirty-eight (Tieling City, December 2004), mine accidents killed a total of 253 (Sunjia Bay, February 2005; Hulu Island, October 2005; Wulong mine under Liaoning Fuxin Mining Group, June 2006; Laohutai mine under Liaoning Fushan Mining Group, March 2007), a steel factory accident killed thirty-two (Tieling City, April 2007), and the Tianying Karaoke Bar explosion killed twenty-five (Benxi County, July 2007). The many accidents raised serious questions regarding workplace safety and the right to safe and healthy labor conditions.

In September 2005, Zheng Yichun (郑贻春), freelance writer and poet from Yingkou City, Liaoning Province, was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to seven years in prison and three years’ deprivation of political rights. Zheng was prosecuted for sixty-three articles written and published on the internet that express dissident views.

Rights Abuses in Zhejiang and Shanghai during Xi Jinping’s Tenure

From 2002 to 2007, Xi Jinping held the top political positions in Zhejiang Province.[3] In March 2007, he became Party Secretary of Shanghai Municipality.

During his rule in Zhejiang, the province gained a reputation for the most zealous persecution of political dissidents, writers, underground Christians, and human rights activists. Violations of rights to freedom of expression, association, and religious freedom stand out in particular.

In 2005, Tan Kai, who founded the environmental group, Green Watch, was imprisoned for a year and a half for “illegally obtaining state secrets.”

On April 10, 2005, villagers in Huashui Township, Dongyang City, Zhejiang Province protested against air pollution produced by a chemical factory and clashed with 3,500 police and officials sent by the Dongyang City government, resulting in more than sixty people injured and dozens of arrests. Eight of the protesters were put on trial. Some of them were allegedly subjected to torture. Liu Huirong was sentenced to five years in prison for assaulting a policeman. Wang Zongliang and Wang Liangping were sentenced to, respectively, one year and fifteen months imprisonment for inciting social disorder. (Click here for more information)

Zhang Jianhong (also known as Li Hong, 力虹), a freelance writer from Ningbo, Zhejiang Province was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and on January 12, 2007, sentenced to six years in prison for publishing more than 100 “articles defaming the Chinese government and calling for agitation to overthrow the government.”

Chen Shuqing (陈树庆), another dissident writer and leading member of the Chinese Democratic Party from Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province, was arrested on October 17, 2006, and convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” on August 16, 2007, and sentenced to four years of imprisonment and one year of political rights deprivation.

Yan Zhengxue (严正学), artist and independent writer and activist, was found guilty of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to three years in prison and one year of political rights deprivation on April 13, 2006, by the Taizhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court in Zhejiang Province.

Ci Jianwei (池建伟), a democracy activist, was arrested on November 21, 2006, and sentenced to three years on March 27, 2007, for “using evil religion to impede law enforcement.”

According to the China Aid Association, Liu Fenggang, Xu Yonghai and Zhang Shengqi, three Christian activists, were sentenced to, respectively, three, two and one year of imprisonment for “spying and providing state secrets” to foreign organizations by the Hangzhou Intermediate People’s Court in Zhejiang in August 2004.

When Xi first became Party Secretary of Shanghai in March 2007, he stressed at a party meeting the importance of receiving petitioners properly to resolve conflicts in society. Many petitioners have had their homes demolished to make room for Shanghai’s rapid economic growth. Some have petitioned for years without success and faced government persecution for their persistence. They had hoped that Xi would put a stop to this persecution and address their grievances. However, the record indicates that forced demolitions and the persecution of petitioners have continued unabated during Xi’s tenure. In April, at least forty out of the 400 households in Changyang Road in Yangpu District had their homes forcibly demolished without adequate compensation. Authorities have since continued to demolish remaining houses. In September alone, about thirty petitioners were taken away to prevent them from petitioning during an important sporting event in Shanghai. Nine Shanghai petitioners in Beijing were taken away by officials from the Beijing Liaison Office of Shanghai Municipality, mistreated and beaten. One 73-year-old woman was detained for a week without proper procedures for attempting to petition Xi while he was having a meeting.


CHRD calls on the CCP leadership to take China’s constitutional and international pledges to promote human rights seriously. The human rights records of leaders must be taken into consideration in promoting them.

CHRD calls on Chinese and international human rights communities to scrutinize the rights records and monitor related actions of the CCP-designated top leaders in the next five years before the 18th National Party Congress.

[1] In Henan, Li was first the Provincial Party Vice Secretary and Acting Governor (1998-9), then Provincial Party Vice Secretary and Governor (1999-2002), then Provincial Party Secretary and Governor (2002-3), and finally Provincial Party Secretary and Director of Standing Committee of Henan Provincial People’s Congress (2003-4)

[2] In Liaoning, Li was first Provincial Party Secretary (2004-5), then Provincial Party Secretary and Director of Standing Committee of Provincial People’s Congress (2005-present).

[3] In Zhejiang, Xi was first Provincial Party Vice Secretary and Acting Governor (2002), then Provincial Party Secretary and Acting Governor (2002-3), then Provincial Party Secretary and Director of Standing Committee of Zhejiang Provincial People’s Congress (2003-7).

Back to Top