China's Rights Record Slammed Twice In Two Days

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

London ( - Two months after China bristled at American accusations contained in a State Department global human rights report, it was this week twice again criticized by bodies concerned with rights abuses.

On Thursday the Committee to Protect Journalists placed Chinese President Jiang Zemin in the top three of its annual list of the world's worst enemies of the press.

Earlier, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in an annual report that China's record in curtailing religious activity has deteriorated in the past year, and it urged Washington to prod Beijing to ease restrictions.

Thursday was the fifth consecutive time Jiang has been named by the CPJ in the advocacy group's list, released each year on May 3, World Press Freedom Day.

Joining him in the top three were Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Liberian strongman Charles Taylor. Others further down included Russia's Vladimir Putin, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.

Jiang featured "for maintaining the Communist Party's obsessive control over information, enforced in part via harsh prison sentences that have now made China the world's leading jailer of journalists," the CPJ said in a release.

It said he presided over "the world's most elaborate system of media control," and noted that 22 journalists were jailed for their work in China at the end of last year. Several media outlets which had been exerting editorial independence were shut down or reorganized.

The committee also highlighted China's clampdown on the Internet, saying Jiang had poured huge resources into policing online content, fearing the Internet's potential to "break the state's information monopoly."

'Pressure Beijing'

On Tuesday, the Washington-based Commission on International Religious Freedom released its second annual report, also highlighting Chinese violations.

It said Beijing had intensified its clampdown on unregistered religious groups, increased state control over official churches and religious organizations, and extended its suppression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

The Commission urged the Bush administration to pressure China on these issues, and suggested that until the situation improves, Washington should use its diplomatic influence to ensure that China does not host the Olympic Games.

Beijing is a short-listed contender to host the event in 2008; the decision will be announced by the International Olympic Committee on July 13.

The Commission also recommended that the U.S. continue to introduce a resolution at the yearly U.N. human rights gathering in Geneva, critical of China.

At the 2001 U.N. meeting, China last month succeeded again to garner sufficient support from members to pre-empt the U.S. attempt to have its human rights record debated and censured.

Beijing angrily rejected the religious freedom body's report. Thursday's People's Daily quotes Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao as calling the charges against China unwarranted and improper.

Pointing to the recommendations about the Olympics and Geneva resolutions, Zhu said the Commission had "trampled the basic norms of international relations and grossly interfered in China's internal affairs."

Zhu insisted that China protects religious freedom, while prohibiting any group from running criminal activities in the name of religion. He dismissed the Falun Gong as a "evil cult" and "a tumor of society" whose ban was welcomed by the Chinese.

Zhu urged the U.S. government to oppose the report, take steps to counter the damage it has caused, and avoid causing "new damage" to Sino-U.S. relations.

Other countries criticized in the Commission on International Religious Freedom's 188-page report include Iran, Sudan, Russia, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Vietnam and North Korea.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow