Dancing in Shackles: A Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in China (2007)

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Dancing in Shackles

A Report on the Situation of Human

Rights Defenders in China (2007)

A report by Chinese Human Rights Defenders

In its Special Series on Human Rights and the Olympics

Table of Contents


The liberties and personal security necessary for human rights defenders (HRDs) to promote and protect human rights were under attack in 2007. As individuals and groups of HRDs became increasingly more resourceful and emboldened, they confronted escalating harassment and repression by Chinese authorities.

Contrary to the pledge it made in its 2001 bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games, the Chinese government has made no attempt to protect and promote human rights. In 2007, the situation regarding the rights to freedom of expression and of association and assembly, in particular, worsened. These are basic rights singled out by the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders as essential to the work and protection of HRDs. A number of laws and regulations adopted in the past decade continued to restrict these rights in 2007. Authorities stepped up monitoring and surveillance of activists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and imposed stricter bans on gatherings and demonstrations. The government also developed more sophisticated tools to control and restrict free speech on the internet and in telecommunications.

In spite of official repression, the nascent civil rights movement, “weiquan yundong” (literally translated as rights defense movement, 维权运动) continued to grow. As described in CHRD’s 2006 HRD report1, China’s civil rights movement, similar to those in other parts of the world, has as its clear objective the promotion and protection of human rights and constitutional rights through non-violent means. In 2007, the movement expanded to encompass a broader range of rights issues, with individuals challenging in their immediate environment official abuses of civil and political rights as well as the rights to health, to a clean environment, and to housing and land. Citizens from many walks of life were active in many regions of China. Not only did they develop a repertoire of tools to press for change, they also experimented with new strategies, including utilizing laws in the deeply flawed legal system, to promote human rights, and made use of modern telecommunications and the internet to influence public opinion, organize and mobilize.

Yet HRDs suffered substantial political persecution in China in 2007. In particular, repression intensified in politically “sensitive” time periods, such as the 17th Party Congress in October, elections of local National People’s Congresses (NPC) held throughout the year in various provinces, and, more generally, in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008. As factions amongst the government leadership did not wish to appear “weak” or “indecisive”, particularly during and prior to the sensitive political events, authorities nervous about widespread social disturbances tightened surveillance, harassment and persecution of HRDs, whom they viewed as “trouble-makers”.

In 2007, the harassment and persecution of HRDs took various forms. They were taken into custody for interrogation, placed under residential surveillance or house arrest, monitored in their homes and followed by police and other security officers. Their personal correspondence and communications, particularly via the internet and mobile phone, were monitored by “cyber-police”. Some were detained or jailed. Many underwent police searches of their private residences and loss of personal belongings to illegal confiscation. Some were severely beaten by unidentified persons thought to be linked to officials. A number were sent to Re-education through Labor (RTL) or sentenced to prison.

Especially worrying trends in 2007 included (1) the use of laws, especially the crime of “inciting subversion of state power”, to punish individuals exercising the right to freedom of expression, (2) arbitrary detention in extra-judicial facilities such as RTL and “black jails”, and (3) targeted persecution of leading rural and labor organizers, human rights lawyers, and independent writers and journalists.

On the basis of this report’s findings and analyses, CHRD makes the following recommendations to key players. These recommendations are elaborated in the Conclusion of the report.

To the Chinese government

  1. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) must act to interpret Article 105(2) of the Chinese Criminal Law to clarify and precisely define the meaning of the terms “incitement,” “subversion” and “state power,” as well as the specific conditions under which an act of expression may constitute “incitement to subversion of state power.”
  2. The NPC must abolish the RTL system. In addition, all individuals detained in “black jails” and other illegal detention facilities must be released immediately and the facilities must be immediately closed.
  3. The NPC must amend the newly revised “Lawyers Law”.
  4. The NPC should conduct a constitutional review of the State Council’s “Regulations of the Administration of Internet News Reports”.
  5. The NPC should conduct a constitutional review of the “Regulations for Registration and Management of Social Organizations”.

To the international community

    1. The UN Human Rights Council, the E.U. and concerned governments should take appropriate measures under their mandate to strengthen their programs protecting and assisting China’s HRDs.
    2. China’s “human rights dialogue” partners must critically review the impact of their decades-long “diplomatic engagement.” Such “dialogues” must identify concrete benchmarks and set timetables.
    3. The relevant UN human rights bodies must monitor the Chinese government’s implementation of its obligations to inform Chinese citizens about international human rights and facilitate their participation in human rights activities.
    4. International key players must keep up their advocacy work, campaigning for imprisoned and harassed HRDs.

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

About this report:

This report is the second CHRD annual report on HRDs. It has been compiled and edited by Chinese activists, including scholars and lawyers, with editorial and translation assistance from international supporters. It is based on information CHRD collected from January 1 to December 31, 2007, which includes news and reports published by HRDs in China and CHRD’s own publications (such as China Human Rights Briefings). Information on important developments in early 2008 has been added as much as possible. In March 2008, CHRD circulated a draft of this report in Chinese for general public comments. The current version has been revised on the basis of the corrections and sound suggestions.2

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. Reports in this series include:

‘“Inciting Subversion of State Power”: A Legal Tool for Prosecuting Free Speech in China’, published on January 8, 2008.

Silencing Complaints: Human Rights Abuses against Petitioners in China”, published on March 11, 2008.

“‘Black Jails’ in the Host City of the ‘Open Olympics’”, published on September 21, 2007

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