State Dept.: Human Rights Conditions Still 'Extremely Poor' in China, Iran

By Pete Winn | May 24, 2012 | 9:59 PM EDT

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( – Human rights conditions in China and Iran continued to be “extremely poor” in 2011, according to the State Department’s latest Human Rights Country Reports.

The State Department on Thursday praised Burma for freeing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from a lengthy house arrest and for starting to open up its political system after decades of repression.

But in nearby China, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently traveled to participate in strategic and economic talks, the human rights situation actually “deteriorated” from 2010, the period covered by the last report, particularly when it came to the “freedoms of expression, assembly, and association.”

In Iran, meanwhile, the government “continued to deny its citizens human rights, including the freedoms of expression, assembly, association, movement, and religion.”

Clinton issued the 2011 Human Rights Country Reports Thursday at the State Department.

“Repression and coercion, particularly against organizations and individuals involved in rights advocacy and public interest issues, were routine,” the China report said.

Individuals and groups seen as politically sensitive by the authorities “continued to face tight restrictions on their freedom to assemble, practice religion, and travel.”

In 2011, the Chinese government “stepped up efforts to silence political activists and resorted to extralegal measures, including enforced disappearance, ‘soft detention,’ and strict house arrest, including house arrest of family members, to prevent the public voicing of independent opinions,” the report noted.

House arrests peaked around high-profile events, such as visits of foreign officials and sensitive anniversaries, the U.S. government said.

Chen Guangcheng, a blind activist in China who exposed abuses under the government's one-child policy, has been under house arrest since his release from prison in September 2010. (AP Photo.)

As it did in 2010, the State Department report again mentioned dissident Chen Guangcheng in its annual assessment of human rights conditions.

“In September 2010 rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng was released from prison following the completion of his sentence and was immediately placed under house arrest, along with his wife, daughter, and mother,” the 2011 State Department report noted.

The 2011 report did not discuss the fate of the blind Chinese lawyer, who has arrived in the United States after making world headlines and precipitating a diplomatic incident when he escaped from house arrest and sought asylum at the U.S. embassy in Beijing earlier this month.

U.S. diplomats, meanwhile, said they were also concerned about another prominent rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, “who had represented Christians and Falun Gong practitioners,” according to the China report.

Zhishing’s whereabouts remained unknown until Dec. 16, when a Beijing court re-imprisoned him for a period of three years “for alleged ‘parole violations’ during the period of his five-year suspended sentence.”

Assaults on religious freedom in China were “common,” according to the State Department in 2011.

“In Tibet, at least 12 monks and nuns immolated themselves to protest political restrictions and lack of religious freedom,” the report noted.

The official report also cursorily mentioned four Roman Catholic bishops in China under persecution from the Chinese government, but did not elaborate.

“In July press reports indicated bishops in four Guangdong cities--Jiangmen, Meizhou, Zhanjiang, and Guangzhou--were taken into police custody and coerced to participate in the July 14 ordination ceremony of Bishop Huang Bingzhang in Shantou,” the report said.

The State Department, however, made no attempt to explain that Bingzhang was appointed to his post by the Beijing government, and that the Vatican has condemned the Chinese government for forcing the four Catholic bishops, who are loyal to Rome, to attend Bingzhang’s ordination. Bingzhang has been excommunicated by Pope Benedict.

However, China’s policy of forced abortion and sterilization remains in force in several Chinese provinces, even though it is officially illegal.

“The Chinese government restricted the rights of parents to choose the number of children they have,” the report said.

Though Chinese law “prohibits the use of physical coercion to compel persons to submit to abortion or sterilization,” the report said that “intense pressure to meet birth limitation targets set by government regulations resulted in instances of local family-planning officials using physical coercion to meet government goals.”

It added: “Such practices included the mandatory use of birth control and the abortion of unauthorized pregnancies. In the case of families that already had two children, one parent was often pressured to undergo sterilization.”

Meanwhile China’s treatment of Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgendered (LGBT) persons, which it said amounted to human rights violations, figured prominently in the China report.

“In June the Fifth Beijing Queer Film Festival was forced underground due to harassment from local police, officers from the Bureau of Industry and Trade, and the Culture Bureau. The police deemed the event ‘illegal,’” the report explained.

“Organizers were forced to close the event to the general public and show the films to invited guests only. The venue of the festival was also changed every night to avoid detection.”


In Iran, the report said, the government had mounted a virtual human rights war on its people in 2011.

“It sentenced hundreds of people to death and carried out hundreds of executions without due process,” the report noted. “It cracked down on all forms of dissent, arresting and detaining activists, opposition leaders, lawyers, journalists, artists, and academics.

In addition: “It executed juveniles, tortured political prisoners, and detained more journalists than nearly any country in the world. It limited the rights of citizens to peacefully change their government through free and fair elections, and also placed under house arrest for most of the year the two leaders of the main opposition movement, arbitrarily arrested their supporters, closed their websites and newspapers, and harassed their families.”

The Iranian government “arrested, tortured, and prosecuted many for dissent, including demonstrators who rallied in solidarity with protesters in Tunisia and Egypt,” the report noted.

“It continued to mistreat women, LGBT people, and members of ethnic and religious minorities. Government officials made anti-Semitic statements, and disproportionately targeted members of minority groups, including Kurds, Arabs, Azeris, and Baluchis, for arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, and physical abuse.”

The Iranian government also “isolated its citizens by imposing severe restrictions on the Internet.”

The Human Rights Country Reports assessed conditions in 199 countries.