Detention of Rights Activists in China Soared in 2014, Report Says

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Originally publish by New York Times (blog) on March 17, 2015

The Chinese authorities last year detained more people advocating greater civic rights than at any time since at least the mid-1990s, a United States-based organization said in a new report.

The rights activists encompass a broad group of people, including opponents of sexual discrimination, groups pushing for migrant workers’ rights and people who argue for better treatment of ethnic minorities. They are increasingly being detained, often without formal charges, amid growing suspicion of independent civic groups that lie outside the control of the governing Communist Party, according to the report by Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

The group documented at least 955 rights advocates who were detained in China in 2014, almost as many as the 1,160 it counted in the previous two years combined. The rise coincided withCommunist Party directives aimed at curtailing what the party views as foreign influences such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press and intellectual freedom at universities, the report said.

“Those who demanded to exercise their fundamental rights or challenge the increasingly repressive system faced government retaliation, including the use of torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, intimidation and other forms of mistreatment,” the group said.

The report is significant because it quantifies the human toll of a continuing crackdown on independent rights advocates that began soon after President Xi Jinping assumed power about two years ago. The 30-page report detailed dozens of cases, including the arrests of lawyers such as Xu Zhiyong, who was sentenced last year to four years in prison on charges of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order,” after he organized a group that channeled public discontent over corruption and social injustices.

The report captures only a small slice of the Chinese citizens detained each year, focusing on a specific group — those who press for greater rights. Many thousands more also face arbitrary detention, including petitioners placed in extralegal “black jails” and minorities, such as in the western region of Xinjiang, detained in a continuing crackdown on ethnic unrest.

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