Democracy and rights
Abbreviated as CHN by Abbreviationfinder, China is a one-party state governed under authoritarian forms by the Communist Party. Although many political and civil rights are guaranteed in the Constitution, there is little respect for these in practice. Since Xi Jinping became the country’s president in 2013, the political repression has hardened while the president has increasingly attached power to himself.
On paper, China has multi-party systems, but the few parties allowed are controlled by the Communist Party (see also Political system). Attempts at political opposition are ruthlessly defeated and countless regime critics have been imprisoned over the years. One of the most famous is Liu Xiaobo, who received the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for his fight for democracy. He was sentenced to eleven years in prison for community outrage and died in cancer in 2017 while serving his sentence.
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There are no free and general elections for political posts – the direct elections available for party congresses at district level and for village councils are also heavily governed. Independent candidates who are outside the Communist Party are opposed and subjected to various forms of harassment.
A wide range of human rights enshrined in the Constitution of China. At the same time, it is forbidden to “sabotage the socialist system”. In 2004, an addition was made in the constitution that “the state must respect and protect human rights”. But the Chinese state is far from fulfilling the Constitution’s commitments. Human rights are violated in a large number of areas.
According to human rights organizations, there are thousands of political prisoners or prisoners of conscience. Regime critics have been removed for retraining in labor camps without prosecution or trial or jailed in secret prisons. In 2013, the Communist Party decided to close the country’s 260 labor camps, set up after Soviet designs in the 1950s, with a total of 160,000 interns. But according to human rights organizations, some camps have remained in use at the same time as other forms of confinement have been used such as psychiatric hospitals and secret prisons. From the second half of the 2010s, the regime has increased the attempts to silence human rights activists, lawyers and journalists. They have been subjected to harassment, detention and violence.
Torture was banned in 1996 but still exists according to human rights organizations. More recently, public acknowledgments, a practice of the time under Mao, which has its roots in China’s imperial era, have also been re-used. These enforced TV broadcast acknowledgments show not only Chinese citizens but also foreigners. Visit Zhengsourcing.com for possible risks and essential tips about importing from China.
One of those who made public prayer is the Swedish citizen and publisher Gui Minhai. He ran a bookstore in Hong Kong that published books with satirical depictions of high-ranking Chinese politicians. He was arrested in Thailand in 2015 and taken to China. In early 2016, the Chinese state television channel CCTV broadcast an interview with Gui Minhai saying that he returned to China to serve a sentence for involvement in a traffic accident many years ago. He was released in October 2017 but was detained again in January 2018. According to the Chinese government, he had violated Chinese law and he would be tried on this basis.
Towards the end of the 2010 century, citizens from other countries were also increasingly deprived of China (see Calendar).
Under the Constitution, all nationalities of the country are equal and their rights and interests are protected. By law, minorities in the autonomous regions enjoy a particularly high degree of self-government, but in practice, practices have varied greatly (see also Tibet and Xinjiang, respectively).
According to the UN Committee Against Racial Discrimination, in 2018, around three million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities were in special camps against extremism or in retraining training camps. Human rights organizations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have estimated that these are tens of thousands, but they do not rule out that the figure of those detained may be even higher.
Ethnic minorities can formally participate in various governing party bodies and the state apparatus, but the party sets the framework for their participation and it is highly symbolic. Minorities rarely reach higher party positions, which also applies to women. About a quarter of the party members elected to the National People’s Congress 2017 were women. Only one member of the Politburo after the 19 party congress was a woman. No woman has been elected to the Standing Committee of the Politburo.
The Constitution guarantees freedom of belief and the right to demonstrate. But this does not apply to practice. Religious communities are strictly monitored by a special state authority for religious control (see Religion) and Christians and Muslims are subjected to persecution.
The party and the state have strong control over non-governmental organizations (NGOs), among other things through a new law from 2017 on financing and registration of foreign NGOs.
Freedom of expression and media
In China, as in other authoritarian states, the regime perceives the role of the mass media quite differently than in the West. Newspapers, radio and television should not primarily convey news and scrutinize power holders but, above all, educate the people and be language speakers for the regime’s policies. Times of extremely arduous and one-sided propaganda have been replaced by periods of relative freedom for the media. Since the 1989 democratic uprising, the mass media has been under close surveillance.
Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are enshrined in the constitution, but China is one of the countries in the world where the media is most heavily controlled. During the 2010s, and especially in its second half, control over the media has been further tightened, especially the censorship of the internet has become increasingly rigid,
In 2019, China ranked 177 out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders ranking of freedom of the press in the countries of the world. According to the organization, the regime is trying to “export” the repressive control system of the media to other countries.
Many topics are forbidden for the media to touch, in particular anything considered to threaten the Communist Party’s position of power. A special authority compiles daily lists of current taboo issues and calls for what media should address. The elements of the ether media are often reviewed in advance. Some areas were opened to a certain extent for journalistic scrutiny, such as corruption, but only as long as reporting was not considered a threat to the regime.
Journalists practice a great deal of self-censorship. Anyone who violates the rules can be dismissed, subjected to harassment, or sentenced to imprisonment. In particular, journalists who have provided foreign newspapers with information have been poor in recent years. Foreign journalists also became increasingly aware of the regime’s restrictions in the early 2010s. So journalists from major foreign newspapers, including The New York Times, were denied a visa after articles were published about the huge fortunes emboldened by Chinese top politicians, including former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and his family.
The Chinese system for controlling the internet is the most developed in the world; daily, thousands of employees in the government’s service work to censor and monitor content and disseminate regime-friendly opinions online. Thousands of Internet cafes and individual websites have been closed and access to countless international websites with “malicious” material, such as foreign news sites, has been blocked through the so-called “Great Chinese Firewall”. Western computer companies have helped to build up a technically sophisticated Internet censorship.
In 2013, about two-thirds of the country’s over 600 million Internet users used social media such as the Weibo microblogging service and other native alternatives to the banned Twitter and Facebook. Social media had become a channel for Chinese to prosecute injustices and approach corrupt officials. The authorities acted in 2013 to block this valve for dissatisfaction. Some influential bloggers were sentenced to prison after a new law was created that prohibited the spread of false rumors or slander online, others were harassed or carried away by the police.
International internet company Google closed its search engine on the Chinese internet in 2010. The reason was stated to be the regime’s strict internet censorship. At the same time, the company directed Chinese users to its search service in Hong Kong. The real motive for Google’s actions was considered by analysts to be attacks by hackers traced to China. The target of the attacks was the accounts of Chinese human rights activists.
Occasional attempts have been made to introduce private ownership among the press in the 21st century, but in the main, almost 2,000 daily newspapers are owned directly or indirectly by the Communist Party or the state.
Internet surveillance and censorship was further strengthened when a new cyber security law came into force in 2017. Various new methods of limiting digital communication via mobiles and computers were introduced. Various forms of artificial intelligence and face recognition and camera surveillance techniques in urban environments and public transport are also used. Domestic popular social media platform Wechat, for example, closely monitors discussions on the forum so that they comply with government regulations.
President Xi Jinping has, since coming to power, conducted a massive campaign against corruption. It has also been seen by judges as a means for him to beat political rivals. Since 2012, hundreds of thousands of employees in the Chinese state and party apparatus, including the military, have been the subject of the massive corruption campaign. According to experts and human rights organizations, the fight against corruption has had an effect, above all, on the display of the enormous wealth that corrupt party cadres have previously been able to publicly expose. Corruption within the state party apparatus is still widespread, not least at the local level and within the judiciary. Corruption, bribery and embezzlement are common when it comes to the sale and takeover of land in connection with business investments and infrastructure projects.
It is the Communist Party – and not the ordinary judiciary – that is investigating party members suspected of corruption. The party has its own body that examines discipline issues. In 2018, the National People’s Congress established a special National Monitoring Commission that would be responsible for investigating corruption both within the party and within the state.
China was ranked 87th on the organization Transparency International’s ranking list of corruption in world countries 2018 (see here).
Judicial system and legal security
Over the past two decades, the justice system has been reformed to more closely meet the demands of modern society and international contacts. The Communist Party exerts a strong influence over the courts at all levels; the party decides on decisions especially in politically important cases and appoints judges. A major problem in the judiciary is the widespread corruption.
The death penalty can be punished for just over fifty crimes from drug trafficking and corruption to robbery, murder and social destruction.
The number of annual executions is a well-kept state secret, but it is more than in any other country and more than in all other countries overall. However, executions have decreased during the 2010s and the goal of the decision makers is to continue to reduce them. Previously, this figure has been estimated at 8,000-12,000 executions per year. The use of organs from executed prisoners severely criticized by human rights organizations was phased out as a new organ donation system to be based on voluntary donors was published in 2012.
Since 2007, all death sentences issued must be approved by the Supreme Court. The change was officially justified by the fact that it was a way of preventing incorrect judgments. In recent years, some cases where innocents have been convicted have been noticed in the media. Local courts have been urged to be more restrictive with death sentences and at the beginning of the 2010s a discussion was underway both among leading lawyers and at the National People’s Congress on the restrictions on the death penalty.
From 2015, the government’s attitude also hardened to lawyers and lawyers who worked for human rights and who defended activists in trials. Several hundred lawyers and lawyers were arrested, some received harsh prison sentences while others were detained without contact with the outside world.
According to reports, conditions in prisons are very difficult. Overcrowding is common and many prisoners have testified about torture, rape and other abuses. Political prisoners and human rights activists have often been denied medical care and medicine.