Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In many instances few or no details were available.
On July 13, political prisoner and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo died of liver cancer while in police custody in a Shenyang hospital. At the time of his death, Liu was serving a multiyear prison sentence after a court convicted him in 2009 of “inciting subversion of state power” for his role in drafting the “Charter 08” manifesto calling for political reforms.
Government officials said doctors diagnosed Liu Xiaobo with terminal liver cancer in late May following a routine physical examination. Prison medical checks had shown Liu had liver problems as early as 2010. While the government stated it had provided Liu with regular check-ups, international human rights groups maintained that by denying Liu early treatment and delaying delivery of advanced medical care, the government bore responsibility for his death.
Liu was granted “medical parole” and transferred to a hospital in Shenyang for cancer treatment in June. Foreign governments, international NGOs, and domestic activists called on the government to allow Liu Xiaobo to go overseas for medical treatment. The government refused that request but instead granted two foreign medical experts permission to travel to Shenyang to see Liu Xiaobo in person and “consult” on the case. Upon examining him, the physicians said their institutions could provide care that could prolong his life and ease his suffering. The government refused the offers. Liu died one week later. Liu’s widow, poet Liu Xia, remained under extralegal house arrest even after his death.
A number of violent incidents in the XUAR resulted in multiple deaths. For example, state media reported on January 8 that Hotan public security authorities shot and killed three members of an alleged terrorist group who had offered resistance, without providing details. There had been accusations in previous years of arbitrary killings that were reported as clashes with “terrorists” or “separatists,” but tightened restrictions on news media and other sources of information from Xinjiang, together with the government’s increasingly tight security posture there, made reports difficult to verify (see also the Tibet annex for incidents of abuse.)
On June 4, Akmet, an ethnic Kazakh imam from the Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture in the XUAR, died in police custody under mysterious circumstances. There were reports police rushed his funeral and forbade clergy from being present. Afterwards, police detained more than 100 persons who posted about the case online.
Although legal reforms in recent years decreased the use of the death penalty and improved the review process, authorities executed some defendants in criminal proceedings following convictions that lacked due process and adequate channels for appeal.
There were multiple reports that authorities detained individuals and held them at undisclosed locations for extended periods.
Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng went missing in August. Gao was released from prison in 2014 and had been living under house arrest. In August, Gao’s family and friends reported they lost contact with him. In September, Radio Free Asia reported that Gao’s family said they were told that he was in police custody at an undisclosed location, although authorities did not release any details surrounding his detention, including a reason for his latest disappearance.
Zhao Suli, the wife of China Democracy Party founder Qin Yongmin, remained missing since authorities detained her and Qin in January 2015. Qin was charged with “subversion of state power” but had yet to be tried. Zhao, meanwhile, had not been publicly charged with any crimes, and her family filed lawsuits against the government as a way of trying to find out what happened to her. Her family members told Radio Free Asia that they feared she had died.
Lawyer Wang Quanzhang remained missing throughout the year. Authorities detained Wang in the July 2015 “709” roundup of more than 300 human rights lawyers and legal associates. Since then, while still awaiting trial, Wang was held in an undisclosed location without access to an attorney of his choosing. As of December, Wang’s family had neither seen nor heard from him since his detention, and his friends and family said they did not know whether or not he was still alive. The crackdown primarily targeted individuals who worked as defense lawyers on prominent religious freedom and human rights cases, including the 2008 melamine scandal; the Beijing “feminist five” detentions; the Xu Chunhe case, in which police shot an unarmed man; and cases involving sexual abuse of young girls; members of unregistered churches; and Falun Gong practitioners.
Authorities put on trial a number of prominent “709” detainees, including blogger Wu Gan in Tianjin in August. Prior to the trial, authorities held Wu for more than two years at an undisclosed location, making this a de facto case of disappearance. On December 26, the court sentenced Wu to eight years in prison followed by five years’ deprivation of political rights.
Extraterritorial disappearances occurred during the year. Chinese-born billionaire Xiao Jianhua disappeared from a luxury hotel in Hong Kong in January. Multiple press reports stated he was likely abducted by state security agents from the mainland. Xiao had Canadian citizenship as well as a passport from Antigua and Barbuda.
Swedish bookseller and Hong Kong resident Gui Minhai, who went missing from Thailand in 2015, was released late in the year but was unable to leave the country.
Uighurs and members of other ethnic minorities disappeared in the XUAR. In many cases individuals were detained upon returning home after studying abroad.
The government still had not provided a comprehensive, credible accounting of all those killed, missing, or detained in connection with the violent suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations. Many activists who were involved in the 1989 demonstrations and their family members continued to suffer official harassment.
The government made no efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such acts.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits the physical abuse and mistreatment of detainees and forbids prison guards from coercing confessions, insulting prisoners’ dignity, and beating or encouraging others to beat prisoners. Amendments to the criminal procedure law exclude evidence, including coerced confessions obtained through illegal means, in certain categories of criminal cases. Enforcement of these legal protections continued to be lax.
Numerous former prisoners and detainees reported they were beaten, subjected to electric shock, forced to sit on stools for hours on end, hung by the wrists, deprived of sleep, force fed, forced to take medication against their will, and otherwise subjected to physical and psychological abuse. Although prison authorities abused ordinary prisoners, they reportedly singled out political and religious dissidents for particularly harsh treatment.
There were multiple reports that lawyers, law associates, and activists detained in the “709” crackdown suffered various forms of torture, abuse, or degrading treatment. The lawyers of detained blogger Wu Gan reported that authorities had severely tortured Wu because he refused to cooperate. When authorities released attorney Li Chunfu in January, he was suffering from a mental breakdown and diagnosed with schizophrenia, a condition he had never before experienced. Rights lawyer Xie Yang said in a series of statements he released in January that he was repeatedly tied up and beaten during his lengthy detention in Changsha. He said he “confessed” in his subsequent televised trial only after he was “brainwashed” as a result of the extensive torture he experienced.
In response to these reports, the government accused lawyer Jiang Tianyong of fabricating the torture accounts in coordination with the families of detained lawyers. Jiang’s family said his own cooperation with authorities during his trial broadcast online in August was a result of torture he himself had experienced while in custody.
In January, Swedish citizen Peter Dahlin shared with the Guardian his first-hand account of the torture he experienced during his 23-day detention in early 2016. Dahlin claimed he was blindfolded, deprived of sleep, questioned for hours, and not allowed to exercise. He also said he was connected to a lie detection machine during lengthy interrogations.
In June the government released new regulations on excluding illegally obtained evidence in criminal cases, banning confessions by torture and ending “forced self-incrimination.” The document, issued jointly by the Supreme Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate (prosecutor’s office), Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of State Security, and Ministry of Justice, stated it is “illegal for police or prosecutors to extort confessions through torture, threats or cheating.”
Members of the minority Uighur ethnic group reported systematic torture and other degrading treatment by law enforcement officers and the penal system (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities). Practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement reported systematic torture more often than other groups.
The law states that psychiatric treatment and hospitalization should be “on a voluntary basis,” but it has loopholes that allow authorities and family members to commit persons to psychiatric facilities against their will and fails to provide meaningful legal protections for persons sent to psychiatric facilities. The law does not provide for the right to a lawyer and restricts a person’s right to communicate with those outside the psychiatric institutions.
According to the Legal Daily (a state-owned newspaper covering legal affairs), the Ministry of Public Security directly administered 23 high-security psychiatric hospitals for the criminally insane. While many of those committed to mental-health facilities had been convicted of murder and other violent crimes, there were also reports of activists and petitioners involuntarily subjected to psychiatric treatment for political reasons. Public security officials may commit individuals to psychiatric facilities and force treatment for “conditions” that have no basis in psychiatry. In April authorities reportedly sent Cai Yinglan to the Ezhou Special Care Hospital in Hubei after local officials accused her of “damaging society through petitioning.” She had been petitioning for payment of unpaid farming subsidies.
In January 2015 the government officially ended the long-standing practice of involuntarily harvesting the organs of executed prisoners for use in transplants. In February former health minister Huang Jiefu publicly announced that the government now had “zero tolerance” for the practice. According to government data, more than 13,000 voluntary transplants and organ donations occurred in 2016. While long criticized for the practice of using prisoner organs, many international medical professionals and credible news organizations, such as the Washington Post, began to note the government’s progress. Some Falun Gong-affiliated organizations continued to question the voluntary nature of the system, the accuracy of official statistics, and official claims about the source of organs. During the year the government further expanded its system for voluntary organ donations.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in penal institutions for both political prisoners and criminal offenders were generally harsh and often degrading.
Physical Conditions: Authorities regularly held prisoners and detainees in overcrowded conditions with poor sanitation. Food often was inadequate and of poor quality, and many detainees relied on supplemental food, medicines, and warm clothing provided by relatives. Prisoners often reported sleeping on the floor because there were no beds or bedding. In many cases provisions for sanitation, ventilation, heating, lighting, and access to potable water were inadequate.
Adequate, timely medical care for prisoners remained a serious problem, despite official assurances that prisoners have the right to prompt medical treatment. Prison authorities withheld medical treatment from political prisoners.
When women’s rights activist Su Changlan was released from prison in October, she was in critical condition, requiring urgent medical care, according to Amnesty International. Her health had deteriorated over the course of her prison term. According to Radio Free Asia, Su had a heart condition and hyperthyroidism. Multiple human rights groups reported that authorities repeatedly denied her medical treatment and reportedly refused her husband’s requests to seek outside medical treatment (see section 2.a.).
Political prisoners were sometimes held with the general prison population and reported being beaten by other prisoners at the instigation of guards. Some reported being held in the same cells as death row inmates. Authorities did not allow some dissidents supplemental food, medicine, and warm clothing from relatives.
Conditions in administrative detention facilities were similar to those in prisons. Beating deaths occurred in administrative detention facilities. Detainees reported beatings, sexual assaults, lack of proper food, and limited or no access to medical care.
Administration: Authorities used alternatives to incarceration for both violent and nonviolent offenders. According to the State Council’s 2016 White Paper on Legal Rights, 2.7 million individuals participated in community correction, with an estimated 689,000 individuals in the program as of September 2016. The same source reported an annual increase of 51,000 individuals in community correction programs.
The law states that letters from a prisoner to higher authorities of the prison or to the judicial organs shall be free from examination; it was unclear to what extent the law was implemented. While authorities occasionally investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions, the results were not documented in a publicly accessible manner. Many prisoners and detainees did not have reasonable access to visitors and could not engage in religious practices.
Independent Monitoring: Information about prisons and various other types of administrative and extralegal detention facilities was considered a state secret, and the government typically did not permit independent monitoring.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Arbitrary arrest and detention remained serious problems. The law grants public security officers broad administrative detention powers and the ability to detain individuals for extended periods without formal arrest or criminal charges. Throughout the year lawyers, human rights activists, journalists, religious leaders, and former political prisoners and their family members continued to be targeted for arbitrary detention or arrest.
The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally did not observe this requirement.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The main domestic security agencies include the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Public Security, and the People’s Armed Police. The People’s Liberation Army is primarily responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Local jurisdictions also frequently used civilian municipal security forces, known as “urban management” officials, to enforce administrative measures. Oversight of these forces was localized and ad hoc. By law officials can be criminally prosecuted for abuses of power, but such cases were rarely pursued.
The Ministry of Public Security coordinates the civilian police force, which is organized into specialized agencies and local, county, and provincial jurisdictions. Procuratorate oversight of the public security forces was limited. Corruption at every level was widespread. Public security and urban management officials engaged in extrajudicial detention, extortion, and assault.
Regulations state that officers in prisons face dismissal if found to have beaten, applied corporal punishment to, or abused inmates, or to have instigated such acts, but there were no reports these regulations were enforced.
In the absence of reliable data, it was difficult to ascertain the full extent of impunity for the domestic security apparatus, but anecdotal accounts of abuse were common on social media and sometimes appeared in state media reports as well. Authorities often announced investigations following cases of reported killings by police. It remained unclear, however, whether these investigations resulted in findings of police malfeasance or disciplinary action.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Criminal detention beyond 37 days requires approval of a formal arrest by the procuratorate, but in cases pertaining to “national security, terrorism, and major bribery,” the law permits up to six months of incommunicado detention without formal arrest. After formally arresting a suspect, public security authorities are authorized to detain a suspect for up to an additional seven months while the case is investigated.
After the completion of an investigation, the procuratorate can detain a suspect an additional 45 days while determining whether to file criminal charges. If charges are filed, authorities can detain a suspect for an additional 45 days before beginning judicial proceedings. Public security sometimes detained persons beyond the period allowed by law, and pretrial detention periods of a year or longer were common.
The law stipulates that detainees be allowed to meet with defense counsel before criminal charges are filed. The criminal procedure law requires a court to provide a lawyer to a defendant who has not already retained one, who has various disabilities or is a minor, or who faces a life sentence or the death penalty. This law applies whether or not the defendant is indigent. Courts may also provide lawyers to other criminal defendants who cannot afford them, although courts often did not do so. Lawyers reported difficulties meeting their clients in detention centers, especially in cases considered politically sensitive.
Criminal defendants are entitled to apply for bail (also translated as “a guarantor pending trial”) while awaiting trial, but the system did not appear to operate effectively, and authorities released few suspects on bail.
The law requires notification of family members within 24 hours of detention, but authorities often held individuals without providing such notification for significantly longer periods, especially in politically sensitive cases. In some cases notification did not occur. Under a sweeping exception, officials are not required to provide notification if doing so would “hinder the investigation” of a case. The revised criminal procedure law limits this exception to cases involving state security or terrorism, but public security officials have broad discretion to interpret what is “state security.”
The law allows for residential surveillance rather than detention in a formal facility under certain circumstances. With the approval of the next-higher-level authorities, officials may place a suspect under “residential surveillance” at a designated place of residence (i.e., a place other than the suspect’s home) for up to six months when they suspect crimes of endangering state security, terrorism, or serious bribery and believe that surveillance at the suspect’s home would impede the investigation. Human rights organizations and detainees themselves reported that this practice left detainees at a high risk for torture. Authorities may also prevent defense lawyers from meeting with suspects in these categories of cases.
Authorities used administrative detention to intimidate political and religious activists and to prevent public demonstrations. Forms of administrative detention included compulsory drug rehabilitation treatment (for drug users), “custody and training” (for minor criminal offenders), and “legal education” centers for political and religious activists, particularly Falun Gong practitioners. The maximum stay in compulsory drug rehabilitation centers is two years, including what was generally a six-month stay in a detoxification center.
Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities detained or arrested persons on allegations of revealing state secrets, subversion, and other crimes as a means to suppress political dissent and public advocacy. These charges–including what constitutes a state secret–remained ill defined, and any piece of information could be retroactively designated a state secret. Authorities also used the vaguely worded charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” broadly against many civil rights activists. It remained unclear what this term means. Authorities also detained citizens and foreigners under broad and ambiguous state secret laws for, among other actions, disclosing information on criminal trials, meetings, commercial activity, and government activity. Authorities sometimes retroactively labeled a particular action as a violation of state secret laws. A counterespionage law grants authorities the power to require individuals and organizations to cease any activities deemed a threat to national security. Failure to comply could result in seizure of property and assets.
There were multiple reports that authorities arrested or detained lawyers, petitioners, and other rights activists for lengthy periods, only to have the charges later dismissed for lack of evidence. Many activists were subjected to extralegal house arrest, denied travel rights, or administratively detained in different types of facilities, including “black jails.” In some cases public security officials put pressure on schools not to allow the children of prominent political detainees to enroll. Conditions faced by those under house arrest varied but sometimes included isolation in their homes under guard by security agents. Security officials were frequently stationed inside the homes. Authorities placed many citizens under house arrest during sensitive times, such as during the visits of senior foreign government officials or preceding the 19th Party Congress, annual plenary sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, and sensitive anniversaries in Tibetan areas and the XUAR. Security agents took some of those not placed under house arrest to remote areas on so-called forced vacations. Authorities reportedly sent Liu Xiaobo’s widow, Liu Xia, and her brother to Yunnan on a “forced vacation” after Liu Xiaobo’s funeral.
Individuals who staged events to commemorate the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre were themselves targeted. In May and June, police detained at least two dozen individuals who held various ceremonies, attended protests, or assisted others who did so. Some, such as Li Xiaoling, were charged with crimes, while others were released from detention after several weeks.
Despite being released from prison in 2011, activist Hu Jia remained under extrajudicial house arrest.
Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention could last longer than one year. Defendants in “sensitive cases” reported being subjected to prolonged pretrial detention. Many of the “709” detainees were held in pretrial detention for more than a year without access to their families or their lawyers. Statistics were impossible to obtain, but lengthy pretrial detentions were especially common in cases of political prisoners.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the law states that the courts shall exercise judicial power independently, without interference from administrative organs, social organizations, and individuals, the judiciary did not, in fact, exercise judicial power independently. Judges regularly received political guidance on pending cases, including instructions on how to rule, from both the government and the CCP, particularly in politically sensitive cases. The CCP Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission has the authority to review and direct court operations at all levels of the judiciary. All judicial and procuratorate appointments require approval by the CCP Organization Department.
Corruption often influenced court decisions, since safeguards against judicial corruption were vague and poorly enforced. Local governments appointed and paid local court judges and, as a result, often exerted influence over the rulings of those judges.
A CCP-controlled committee decided most major cases, and the duty of trial and appellate court judges was to craft a legal justification for the committee’s decision.
Courts are not authorized to rule on the constitutionality of legislation. The law permits organizations or individuals to question the constitutionality of laws and regulations, but a constitutional challenge may be directed only to the promulgating legislative body. Lawyers had little or no opportunity to rely on constitutional claims in litigation.
Media sources indicated public security authorities used televised confessions of lawyers, foreign and domestic bloggers, journalists, and business executives in an attempt to establish guilt before their criminal trial proceedings began or as a method of negotiating release from detention. NGOs asserted such statements were likely coerced, perhaps by torture, and some detainees who confessed recanted upon release and confirmed that their confessions had been coerced. No provision in the law allows the pretrial broadcast of confessions by criminal suspects.
Authorities tried and convicted attorney Jiang Tianyong in August for inciting state subversion in Changsha. The case against him was based on his interviews with foreign journalists and his publishing of articles on the internet, actions that, outside the country, were widely seen as normal for someone in his profession. Jiang was prevented from selecting his own attorney to represent him at a trial that multiple analysts viewed as neither impartial nor fair. Following the trial, Jiang remained in custody at an undisclosed location with no communication to his family. Jiang, who was known for his advocacy on behalf of family members of the “709” detainees, was sentenced on November 21 to two years in prison.
Taiwan prodemocracy activist Lee Ming-Che was convicted in September for “subverting state authority.” The case against him was largely based on the contents of text messages and chat logs with human rights activists. During the trial the court played a clip in which Lee said he had “no objection” to the charges. Lee’s wife told reports that her husband made the statement “under duress” and that the statement was the “result of the Chinese government extracting a guilty confession.” In November the court sentenced Lee to five years in prison.
“Judicial independence” remained one of the reportedly off-limit subjects that the CCP ordered university professors not to discuss (see section 2.a., Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).
Although the amended criminal procedure law reaffirms the presumption of innocence, the criminal justice system remained biased toward a presumption of guilt, especially in high-profile or politically sensitive cases. An acquittal rate of less than 1 percent has persisted for many years. In November 2016 the procurator general of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, Cao Jianming, said the average acquittal rate since 2013 was 0.016 percent. Some experts called the number “abnormally low.”
In many politically sensitive trials, courts announced guilty verdicts immediately following proceedings with little time for deliberation. Courts often punished defendants who refused to acknowledge guilt with harsher sentences than those who confessed. The appeals process rarely reversed convictions and failed to provide sufficient avenues for review; remedies for violations of defendants’ rights were inadequate.
Regulations of the Supreme People’s Court require trials to be open to the public, with the exception of cases involving state secrets, privacy issues, minors, or, on the application of a party to the proceedings, commercial secrets. Authorities used the state secrets provision to keep politically sensitive proceedings closed to the public, sometimes even to family members, and to withhold a defendant’s access to defense counsel. Court regulations state that foreigners with valid identification should be allowed to observe trials under the same criteria as citizens, but foreigners were permitted to attend court proceedings only by invitation. As in past years, authorities barred foreign diplomats and journalists from attending a number of trials. In some instances the trials were reclassified as “state secrets” cases or were otherwise closed to the public. During the year foreign diplomats attempted to attend at least a dozen public trials throughout the country. In many instances court officials claimed there were no available seats in the courtroom.
The Open Trial Network (Tingshen Wang) broadcast trials online. According to the Dui Hua Foundation, the Open Trial Network had live-streamed at least 316,000 trials, including 775 from the SPC. The majority were civil trials. Only one trial for endangering state security was streamed on Tingshen. A Tibetan monk named Zhou Jiatai was tried for inciting subversion. The trial was held at Qinghai Haidong Intermediate People’s Court on July 6. He was sentenced to one year in prison with one year’s deprivation of political rights.
More often, in criminal trials, especially in cases deemed politically “sensitive,” courts are more likely to broadcast excerpts of trials on the government’s official Weibo account. This was done during the year in the trials of Jiang Tianyong and Xie Yang and previously for Zhou Shifeng, Zhai Yanmin, and Hu Shigen. All were tried for subversion.
In keeping with the CCP Central Committee’s Fourth Plenum decision to reform certain aspects of the judicial system, the SPC issued updated regulations requiring the release of court judgments online. The regulations, which took effect in October 2016, stipulate that court officials should release judgments, with the exception of those involving state secrets and juvenile suspects, within seven days of their adoption. The Dui Hua Foundation reported that the website, China Judgment Online, had collected more than 5,236,539 judgments for criminal cases and more than 20,952,906 judgments for civil cases. Dui Hua found 115 judgments for endangering state security, the majority of which were for espionage. Courts do not post all judgments. They have wide discretion not to post if they find posting the judgment could be considered “inappropriate.” Many important political cases do not have judgments posted, including those of Guo Feixiong, Pu Zhiqiang, and the 709 lawyers (even when the trial itself was live-streamed).
Individuals facing administrative detention do not have the right to seek legal counsel. Criminal defendants were eligible for legal assistance, although the vast majority of criminal defendants went to trial without a lawyer. According to the State Council’s 2016 White Paper on Legal Rights, 4.7 million cases received legal aid from 2012 to 2015.
Lawyers are required to be members of the CCP-controlled All China Lawyers Association, and the Ministry of Justice requires all lawyers to pledge their loyalty to the leadership of the CCP upon issuance or renewal of their license to practice law. The CCP continued to require law firms with three or more party members to form a CCP unit within the firm.
Despite the government’s stated efforts to improve lawyers’ access to their clients, in March the head of the All China Lawyers Association told China Youth Daily that defense attorneys had taken part in less than 30 percent of criminal cases. In particular, human rights lawyers reported that authorities did not permit them to defend certain clients effectively or threatened them with punishment if they chose to do so. Some lawyers declined to represent defendants in politically sensitive cases, and such defendants frequently found it difficult to find an attorney. In some instances authorities prevented attorneys selected by defendants from taking the case and appointed a court attorney to the case instead.
The government suspended or revoked the business licenses or law licenses of those who took on sensitive cases, such as defending prodemocracy dissidents, house-church activists, Falun Gong practitioners, or government critics. Authorities used the annual licensing review process administered by the All China Lawyers Association to withhold or delay the renewal of professional lawyers’ licenses. Other government tactics to intimidate or otherwise pressure human rights lawyers included unlawful detentions, vague “investigations” of legal offices, disbarment, harassment and physical intimidation, and denial of access to evidence and to clients.
In 2015 the NPC’s Standing Committee amended legislation concerning the legal profession. The amendments criminalize attorneys’ actions that “insult, defame, or threaten judicial officers,” “do not heed the court’s admonition,” or “severely disrupt courtroom order.” The changes also criminalize disclosing client or case information to media outlets or using protests, media, or other means to influence court decisions. Violators face fines and up to three years in prison.
Regulations adopted in 2015 also state that detention center officials should either allow defense attorneys to meet suspects or defendants or explain why the meeting cannot be arranged at that time. The regulations specify that a meeting should be arranged within 48 hours. Procuratorates and courts should allow defense attorneys to access and read case files within three working days. The time and frequency of opportunities available for defense attorneys to read case files shall not be limited, according to the guidelines. In some sensitive cases, lawyers had no pretrial access to their clients, and defendants and lawyers were not allowed to communicate with one another during trials. In contravention of the revised criminal procedure law (see section 1.d.), criminal defendants frequently were not assigned an attorney until a case was brought to court. The law stipulates that the spoken and written language of criminal proceedings shall be conducted in the language common to the specific locality, with government interpreters providing language services for defendants not proficient in the local language. Sources noted trials were predominantly conducted in Mandarin Chinese even in minority areas, with interpreters provided for defendants who did not speak the language.
Mechanisms allowing defendants to confront their accusers were inadequate. Only a small percentage of trials reportedly involved witnesses. Judges retained significant discretion over whether live witness testimony was required or even allowed. In most criminal trials, prosecutors read witness statements, which neither the defendants nor their lawyers had an opportunity to rebut through cross-examination. Although the law states that pretrial witness statements cannot serve as the sole basis for conviction, prosecutors relied heavily on such statements. Defense attorneys had no authority to compel witnesses to testify or to mandate discovery, although they could apply for access to government-held evidence relevant to their case.
Under the law, lawyers are assigned to convicted prisoners on death row who cannot afford one during the review of their sentences. The number of capital offenses in the criminal code was reduced to 46 in 2015. Official figures on executions were classified as a state secret. According to the Dui Hua Foundation, the number of executions continued to fall. The Foundation estimated there were 2,000 executions in 2016, down from 2,400 in 2013. The high was 24,000 in 1983. The drop reflected the reform of the capital punishment system initiated in 2007. Dui Hua also reported that an increase in the number of Uighur executions likely offset the drop in the number of Han Chinese executed.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
Government officials continued to deny holding any political prisoners, asserting that persons were detained not for their political or religious views but because they violated the law. Authorities, however, continued to imprison citizens for reasons related to politics and religion. Human rights organizations estimated that tens of thousands of political prisoners remained incarcerated, most in prisons and some in administrative detention. The government did not grant international humanitarian organizations access to political prisoners.
Political prisoners were granted early release at lower rates than other prisoners. The Dui Hua Foundation estimated that more than 100 prisoners were still serving sentences for counterrevolution and hooliganism, two crimes removed from the criminal code in 1997. Thousands of others were serving sentences for political and religious offenses, including “endangering state security” and “cult” offenses covered under Article 300 of the criminal code, crimes introduced in 1997. The government neither reviewed the cases of those charged before 1997 with counterrevolution and hooliganism nor released persons jailed for nonviolent offenses under repealed provisions.
Many political prisoners remained in prison or under other forms of detention at year’s end, including writer Yang Maodong (Guo Feixiong); Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti; rights lawyer Tang Jingling; activist Wang Bingzhang; activist Liu Xianbin; pastor Zhang Shaojie; Falun Gong practitioner Bian Lichao; lawyers Wang Quanzhang, Xia Lin, and Jiang Tianyong; blogger Wu Gan; Buddhist monk Xu Zhiqiang (who also goes by the name Master Shengguan); and Shanghai labor activist Jiang Cunde.
Criminal punishments included “deprivation of political rights” for a fixed period after release from prison, during which an individual could be denied rights of free speech, association, and publication. Former prisoners reported that their ability to find employment, travel, obtain residence permits and passports, rent residences, and access social services was severely restricted.
Authorities frequently subjected former political prisoners and their families to surveillance, telephone wiretaps, searches, and other forms of harassment or threats. For example, security personnel followed the family members of detained or imprisoned rights activists to meetings with foreign reporters and diplomats and urged the family members to remain silent about the cases of their relatives. Authorities barred certain members of the rights community from meeting with visiting dignitaries.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Courts deciding civil matters faced the same limitations on judicial independence as criminal courts. The State Compensation Law provides administrative and judicial remedies for plaintiffs whose rights or interests government agencies or officials have infringed. The law also allows compensation for wrongful detention, mental trauma, or physical injuries inflicted by detention center or prison officials.
Although historically, citizens seldom applied for state compensation because of the high cost of bringing lawsuits, low credibility of courts, and citizens’ general lack of awareness of the law, a white paper on judicial reform released in February stated that courts had paid out more than 699 million yuan ($100 million) from 2013 to 2016. In March the parents of Nie Shubing were awarded approximately 2.68 million yuan ($394,000) for his wrongful execution in 1995 for a murder he did not commit. In 2005 another man had confessed to the murder, and in December 2016 the Supreme People’s Court acquitted Nie, ruling that the previous conviction was based on insufficient evidence. In August the Jiangxi Higher People’s Court stated that four persons who were acquitted from wrongful convictions had each received approximately 2.27 million yuan ($330,000).
The law provides for the right of an individual to petition the government for resolution of grievances. Most petitions address grievances about land, housing, entitlements, the environment, or corruption, and most petitioners sought to present their complaints at local “letters and visits” offices. The government reported that approximately six million petitions were submitted every year; however, persons petitioning the government continued to face restrictions on their rights to assemble and raise grievances.
While the central government reiterated prohibitions against blocking or restricting “normal petitioning” and against unlawfully detaining petitioners, official retaliation against petitioners continued. Regulations encourage all litigation-related petitions to be handled at the local level through local or provincial courts, reinforcing a system of incentives for local officials to prevent petitioners from raising complaints to higher levels. Local officials sent security personnel to Beijing to return petitioners to their home provinces forcibly to prevent them from filing complaints against local officials with the central government. Such detentions often went unrecorded and often resulted in brief periods of incarceration in extralegal “black jails.”
In July, President Xi participated in a national conference devoted to improving the petitioner system, which was marred by corruption. In April the South China Morning Post reported that the former vice chair of the Beijing Bureau for Letters and Calls had accepted nearly 5.5 million yuan ($870,000) in bribes in order to make petition cases disappear. In 2015 a court sentenced him to 13 years in jail.
Despite attempts at improving the system, progress was unsteady. Many petitioners reported they were often detained in black jails when trying to seek redress from the government. In May a group of petitioners traveled to Beijing to get attention during the national One Belt One Road summit. According to human rights activists, police rounded up more than 200 petitioners as they drew close to the Beijing Civil Administration building. They were reportedly held in unmarked buildings for three days during which they said they had no food and no place to sleep. Authorities eventually forced the petitioners to take trains back to their hometowns.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law states the “freedom and privacy of correspondence of citizens are protected by law,” but authorities often did not respect the privacy of citizens. Although the law requires warrants before officers can search premises, officials frequently ignored this requirement. The Public Security Bureau and prosecutors are authorized to issue search warrants on their own authority without judicial review. There continued to be reports of cases of forced entry by police officers.
Authorities monitored telephone calls, text messages, faxes, email, instant messaging, and other digital communications intended to remain private. They also opened and censored domestic and international mail. Security services routinely monitored and entered residences and offices to gain access to computers, telephones, and fax machines. Foreign journalists leaving the country found some of their personal belongings searched. In some cases, when material deemed politically sensitive was uncovered, the journalists had to sign a statement stating they would “voluntarily” leave these documents behind in China.
According to media reports, the Ministry of Public Security used tens of millions of surveillance cameras throughout the country to monitor the general public. In 2015 the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau announced it had “covered every corner of the capital with a video surveillance system.” Human rights groups stated that authorities increasingly relied on video and other forms of surveillance to monitor and intimidate political dissidents, Tibetans, and Uighurs. The monitoring and disruption of telephone and internet communications were particularly widespread in the XUAR and Tibetan areas. The law allows security agencies to cut communication networks during “major security incidents.”
According to Human Rights Watch, the Ministry of State Security partnered with information technology firms to create a “mass automated voice recognition and monitoring system,” similar to ones already in use in Xinjiang and Anhui, to help with solving criminal cases. According to the company making it, the system was programmed to understand Mandarin Chinese and certain minority languages, including Tibetan and Uighur. In many cases other biometric data such as fingerprints and DNA profiles were being stored as well. This database included information obtained not just from criminals and criminal suspects but also from entire populations of migrant workers and all Uighurs applying for passports.
Forced relocation because of urban development continued in some locations. Protests over relocation terms or compensation were common, and authorities prosecuted some protest leaders. In rural areas infrastructure and commercial development projects resulted in the forced relocation of thousands of persons.
Property-related disputes between citizens and government authorities sometimes turned violent. These disputes frequently stemmed from local officials’ collusion with property developers to pay little or no compensation to displaced residents, combined with a lack of effective government oversight or media scrutiny of local officials’ involvement in property transactions, as well as a lack of legal remedies or other dispute resolution mechanisms for displaced residents. The problem persisted despite central government claims it had imposed stronger controls over illegal land seizures and taken steps to standardize compensation. Redevelopment in traditional Uighur neighborhoods in cities throughout the XUAR resulted in the destruction of historically or culturally important areas. Some residents expressed opposition to the lack of proper compensation by the government and the coercive measures used to obtain their agreement to redevelopment.
The government instituted the “double-linked household” system in the XUAR after using it in Tibet for many years. This system divides households into groups of 10 to watch over each other and report on “security issues” to the government, thus turning average citizens into informers.
The government restricted the rights of men and women to have children (see section 6, Women).