Silencing Complaints: Human Rights Abuses Against Petitioners in China

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Silencing Complaints: Human Rights Abuses

Against Petitioners in China

A report by Chinese Human Rights Defenders

In its Special Series on Human Rights and the Olympics


As China prepares to host the Olympics, this report finds that illegal interception and arbitrary detention of petitioners bringing grievances to higher authorities have become more systematic and extensive, especially in the host city of the Olympic Games, Beijing.

“The most repressive mechanisms are now being employed to block the steady stream of petitioners from registering their grievances in Beijing. The Chinese government wants to erase the image of people protesting in front of government buildings, as it would ruin the meticulously cultivated impression of a contented, modern, prosperous China welcoming the world to the Olympics this summer,” said Liu Debo,1 who participated in the investigations and research for this report.

Petitioners, officially estimated to be 10 million, are amongst those most vulnerable to human rights abuses in China today. As they bring complaints about lower levels of government to higher authorities, they face harassment and retaliation. Officially, the Chinese government encourages petitions and has an extensive governmental bureaucracy to handle them. In practice, however, officials at all levels of government have a vested interest in preventing petitioners from speaking up about the mistreatment and injustices they have suffered. The Chinese government has developed a complex extra-legal system to intercept, confine, and punish petitioners in order to control and silence them, often employing brutal means such as assault, surveillance, harassment of family members, kidnapping, and incarceration in secret detention centers, psychiatric institutions and Re-education through Labor camps.

The interception of petitioners violates a number of basic human rights, such as the rights to freedom of expression, to liberty and security of person, and to freedom from torture and other cruel, degrading or inhumane treatment. Violations are the result of a combination of factors including unchecked state power, a system of incentives which link officials’ careers to their ability to minimize petitions against them, and the higher-level officials’ exchange of registered petitioners for bribes from lower-level officials.

This report identifies the main causes of the human rights abuses committed against the petitioners, traces the legal or official justifications for these practices in relevant laws and regulations, and proposes policy and legal reforms to eradicate these abuses.

In particular, CHRD urges the government to:

● respect the rights exercised by petitioners, which are guaranteed in the Chinese Constitution

● immediately cease all illegal interception of petitioners

● reform the incentive system that encourages interception

● abolish the Re-education through Labor system,

● hold officials and those acting in an official capacity accountable for rights abuses committed against petitioners

● make complaints procedures impartial

●ensure petitioners have unhindered access to legal aid and to the legal system

● strengthen judicial independence and other channels to redress official injustices

Please click here to download the full CHRB date range in PDF format

About this Report

This report is based on the first report on the human rights situation of petitioners researched and written by veteran petitioners themselves as well as activists who have assisted them. Key source material includes a survey conducted in 2007 of a total of 3,328 petitioners in Beijing, twenty-eight interviews of petitioners, and the observations and experience of those who carried out the research. CHRD conducted further research on the laws and regulations regarding petitioning for the current report.

About Olympics & Human Rights Special Series

This report is part of CHRD’s “Special Series on Human Rights & the Olympics”. In this series, CHRD will issue in-depth studies as part of its campaign to push for human rights improvement, raising international attention to rights abuses related to official preparations for the 2008 Summer Olympics. The first of the series is ‘“Inciting Subversion of State Power”: A Legal Tool for Prosecuting Free Speech in China’, published on January 8, 2008.

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