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March 2005

March 31, 2005

*The information contained in this summary is based on information collected by HRIC in March and is not intended as a complete list. Rather, it should be viewed as a representation of larger trends of dissent and repression in China.

Death Penalty

Labor

Media Censorship

Petitions and Protests

Political Dissidents

Religious Persecution


Death Penalty

In March, Premier Wen Jiabao announced government plans to reinstate the Supreme Court’s exclusive right to confirm death sentences, a power that the high court relinquished during a crime-fighting campaign in the 1980s.  The need for better oversight on the imposition of capital punishment had become a subject of keen debate following disclosure of the case of Nie Shubin (聂树斌), a man executed for murder in 1994. Nie's innocence was confirmed earlier this year with the conviction of the actual murderer. The Supreme Court is now recruiting and training legal professionals to serve on a death penalty review tribunal.

Scholars believe that the requirement for judicial approval may cut executions by one third. It will be difficult to gauge the impact of the reform, however, since Beijing considers execution statistics a state secret. Human rights groups estimate that China executes 5,000 to 12,000 people a year. A senior Beijing legislator quoted by Amnesty International has estimated that the true number may be around 10,000.

Financial Crimes
Bi Yuxi (畢玉璽), a 62-year-old former vice director of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Communications, was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve on March 16 for accepting bribes of more than 10 million yuan and misappropriating more than 3 million yuan in public funds from 1993 to 2004. Bi was also stripped of his assets and fined 30,000 yuan ($3,625). Suspended death sentences are generally commuted to life imprisonment in China. 

Drug-related Crimes
Henry Chhin, a Chinese Australian, was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve by the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court on March 10. Chhin was convicted of attempting to post drugs from Shenzhen to Australia. Chhin had been previously arrested by Shenzhen police on May 10, 2004, when 700 grams of methamphetamine were found in his house.

Murder
Chen Juan (陳娟), a 46-year-old housewife living in Meizhou, Guangdong Province, was sentenced to death by the Meizhou Intermediate People’s Court on March 8 for murdering her husband.  It was reported that Chen had been a battered wife.


Labor

Cover-up of child labor deaths in Hebei:
HRIC reported on March 2 that five young female workers ranging in age from 14 to 17 years old were found in the dormitory of their textile factory on the morning of December 23, 2004, apparently dead from inhaling the fumes of charcoal that they had burned in a metal bucket to warm themselves. According to HRIC's sources, the girls were taken to a crematorium and placed in caskets before a proper medical examination was carried out. When family members learned of the matter and demanded an opportunity to view the bodies, the parents of two of the girls, 14-year-old Wang Yujuan (王亚娟) and 17-year-old Wang Shimian (王士棉), found evidence that they believed indicated their daughters had still been alive when placed in their caskets. HRIC's sources further alleged that local officials had prevented media reports of the case, and had also physically abused family members of the dead girls.

Coal mine-related accidents
March saw several coal mine accidents, leading to a total of more than 100 deaths and dozens of injuries:

  • The detonation of dynamite stored illegally in a coal miner’s house in Puxian County, Shanxi Province caused the collapse of a nearby school on March 2, killing the mine owner, 20 school children and several teachers. Many private coal mine owners possess large quantities of explosives, but it is illegal to store them in a private residence. Local police did not provide further details.

  • A blast in the Xiangyuanguo No.2 mine in Jiaocheng County, Shanxi Province on March 9 killed 16 miners and trapped another 11 underground. Fifty-six miners escaped and another six were injured.

  • Six miners were trapped underground by a mudslide on March 13 at the Yaozishan coal mine in Hunan Province. They were in stable condition after being rescued two days later.

  • An explosion on March 17 killed 18 coal miners in the Sulongsi coal mine in Xinzhen, near Chongqing City. Rescuers recovered their bodies a day later.

  • A gas blast inside the Xishui Colliery in Shuozhou, Shanxi Province on March 19 killed 70 miners. Many of the victims had been working in a neighboring mine, Kangjiayao, and were trapped when a wall collapsed from the impact of the explosion in the Xishui Colliery. Xishui was operating illegally, since it had been ordered to suspend production after safety problems in November 2004. Kangjiayao was operating with government approval.

  • Eleven builders were trapped when a 40-meter-long section of a shaft ceiling collapsed in the early hours of March 28. The collapse may have resulted from mining operations and movements of the earth’s crust in surrounding areas.


Media Censorship

BBC blocked
In early March, the BBC hosted China Week, covering a broad range of news and developments in China. Although the broadcast company heralded the event as “a significant opening by the Communist party towards the foreign media,” its reports on Taiwan and human rights were censored heavily on mainland television.  Financial Times reported that some local residents who cooperated with BBC reporters were harassed by the police.

Premier censorship
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao fielded questions from national and international media for nearly two hours at his yearly scheduled press appearance on March 14. Transcripts of his remarks published in major state-controlled media outlets the next day omitted some of Wen's comments about Tung Chee-hwa, the Hong Kong chief executive who earlier in the month, two years before the end of his term. Wen’s comments on an American secession law in 1861, in the context of China's anti-secession law, were also excised from the record, leading to speculation that the prime minister either cleaned up his own comments, or was censored.

Increased censorship of Web sites on university campuses
In March the Chinese government tightened controls on student-run University Web discussion forums by blocking access to off-campus users and requiring students to register online with their real names to prevent anonymous postings. Raising particular concern was the closure of Tsinghua University's popular Shuimu Tsinghua (水木清華) forum to non-student visitors on March 17. Censorship of university sites had previously been more lax than for commercial sites, and scholars had frequently used these fora to call for political reforms.  

Dismissed
Xiao Weibin (蕭蔚彬), former editor-in-chief of the liberal magazine Tong Zhou Gong Jin (同舟共濟), was stripped of his appointment to the Guangdong Political People’s Consultative Conference after he refused to resign voluntarily. Xiao was sacked from Tong Zhou Gong Jin last year after running an article criticizing late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping for not promoting more comprehensive political reform.

Missing
The Internet Administration Department of the Public Security Bureau in Lanzhou, Gansu Province shut down a Web site run by the Xueyu Zangren (“snow country Tibetans”) Cultural Exchange Co., Ltd. on March 25. The Webmaster of the site (www.tibetcul.com), the well-known Tibetan writer Tsewangnorbu, has been out of contact since that date.

Detained
Zhang Lin (張林), an activist who played a leading role in the 1989 pro-democracy protest in Anhui Province, was officially charged with subversion on March 19.  Zhang had been detained on January 29 after returning from Beijing, where Beijing authorities had prevented him from paying respects to the family of Zhao Ziyang. A regular contributor to overseas Web sites and magazines, Zhang has not been allowed contact by his family and lawyer in detention.  

The arrest of Zheng Yichun (郑贻春), a Liaoning scholar, poet, and Internet essayist, was revealed in March by his brother, Zheng Xiaochun. Zheng was detained on December 3, 2004, and since December 20th has been held in the No. 1 Prison of Panjin City, Liaoning Province. Zheng's family members were informed on December 31 that Zheng had been charged with incitement to subvert state power, but were warned not to inform the media. They finally went public after an official newspaper reported Zheng’s detention on February 24. Police are citing 63 of Zheng’s articles as evidence against him.


Petitions and Protests
A number of prominent petitioners were detained or placed under house arrest in an apparent attempt to limit their activities during the National People's Congress (NPC) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) sessions, which began on March 3.

Open letter from the Tiananmen Mothers
An open letter to the NPC and the CPPCC was issued by Ding Zilin (丁子霖) and more than 100 other family members of people killed or injured in the official crackdown on pro-democracy protesters on and around June 4, 1989. In the open letter, the family members said that the June 4th Incident remains a blot on China's history, which can only be removed through an unbiased reassessment, including a rehabilitation of former Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang.

Open letter on EU embargo
An open letter from more than 500 Chinese human rights and democracy activists urged the European Union to maintain its arms embargo on China. The letter reiterates that abuses remain widespread, and that lifting of the embargo should be conditioned on human rights improvements.

Petitioners detained
Security police detained Jiang Meili (蒋美丽), the wife of imprisoned Shanghai lawyer Zheng Enchong, and her sister on March 10 outside the home of lawyer Guo Guoting. Jiang told HRIC that neither she nor her sister had been presented with a detention warrant. They were released later that evening.

Sources also told HRIC that police detained Li Jianhong, operator of the banned Qimeng Web site, outside of the building where Jiang Meili lives.

Wu Xuewei (吴雪伟), the husband of detained petitioner Mao Hengfeng, was under strict surveillance starting on February 25.

Shen Yongmei (沈咏梅), a woman who had gone to Beijing to petition over redevelopment projects, was detained on March 6 and forced to return to Shanghai, where she was held at 381 Hefei Lu.

Tian Baocheng (田宝成) and Zhang Cuiping (张翠萍) were reportedly taken from their Shanghai home by public security police on March 3, and were held in a training center. Tian and Zhang had just been released from an RTL camp after being detained in October 2003 with 80 others petitioning Beijing over forced relocations.

Ren Wanding (任畹町), a long-time dissident who has spent a total of 11 years in prison, reported police surveillance of his home during March.


Religious Persecution

Catholic priest Zhao Kexun (趙克勛), believed to be in his mid-70s, was reported to have been arrested by Hebei authorities in late March.  Zhao was among more than 30 priests and other religious practitioners detained recently for worshiping in churches that are not sanctioned by the State.


Political Dissidents

Dismissed
Peking University authorities fired journalism professor Jiao Guobiao (焦国标) in late March. Jiao's removal was the latest in a series of moves against him after he criticized the CCP for “obstructing the civilized growth of Chinese society” last year. One of Jiao's courses at the university was canceled in September, and he was no longer allowed to supervise doctoral students. In November, the Publicity Department (formerly known as the Propaganda Department) issued an order to official state media to stop publishing Jiao's articles. Jiao was finally banned from working in the university's journalism and communications department at the end of 2004, and was offered a job in the archives department instead.  

Under surveillance
Ma Wenbao (马文宝), a local NPC delegate, was reported to be suffering official harassment after he spoke out on behalf of Xi’an residents brutalized in a forced relocation scheme on March 30. Ma declared that the actions of local officials contravened China’s international and domestic humanitarian and human rights obligations. Sources say Ma Wenbao’s outspokenness offended Lianhu District’s Party secretary and district head, and as a result Ma was put under close surveillance and telephone monitoring. 

Released
Rebiya Kadeer, a prominent Uighur businesswoman from Xinjiang, was released on medical parole on March 17.  Kadeer was detained in 1999 and tried in 2000, then sentenced to eight years for “leaking state secrets” by sending newspaper clippings to her husband in the United States. A number of NGOs connected Kadeer's release with an announcement the same day that the U.S. would not sponsor a resolution on China at the UN Human Rights Commission, and with a visit to China by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rica a few days later. Amnesty International claimed that Kadeer’s release “creat[ed] the impression that once again the Chinese government is using political prisoners to play 'hostage politics.'" Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, stated, “China shouldn't get any political credit for letting [Kadeer] go when they kept her behind bars for so many years.” Kadeer was reunited with several of her 11 children in the U.S. shortly after her release. 

Jiang Yanyong (蔣彥永), the army surgeon detained last year after calling for a reassessment of the June 4th crackdown, was released on March 22 after eight months under house arrest. 


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