Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
The Chinese government continued in 2009 to demonstrate high levels of insecurity and intolerance regarding citizens’ political activism and demands for human rights protection. Aiming to suppress protests during politically sensitive anniversaries during the year, including the 60-year mark of the Communist Party’s rise to power, the authorities resorted to lockdowns on major cities and new restrictions on the internet. The government also engaged in a renewed campaign against democracy activists, human rights lawyers, and religious or ethnic minorities, which included sentencing dozens to long prison terms following unfair trials. Repressive measures were intensified in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, especially after ethnic violence erupted there in July. Nevertheless, many citizens defied government hostility and asserted their rights to free expression and association.
The CCP signaled its resolve to avoid democratization with the deadly 1989 assault on prodemocracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and surrounding areas. Following the crackdown, Jiang Zemin replaced Zhao Ziyang as general secretary of the party. Jiang was named state president in 1993 and became China’s top leader following Deng’s death in 1997. He continued Deng’s policy of rapid economic growth, recognizing that regime legitimacy now rested largely on the CCP’s ability to boost living standards. In the political sphere, Jiang maintained a hard line.
At the international level, the CCP made concerted efforts to extend its propaganda and censorship beyond China’s borders. The government invested billions of dollars in new international versions of party mouthpieces such as Xinhua News Agency, while pressuring foreign officials to silence regime critics at cultural events in Germany, Australia, South Korea, Bangladesh, and Taiwan. Chinese officials also successfully pressured Pakistan and Cambodia to repatriate Uighur asylum-seekers, who faced possible torture and execution in China. Relations between China and Taiwan continued to thaw, as new bilateral agreements facilitated transportation links, judicial assistance, and economic investment.
China is not an electoral democracy. The CCP has a monopoly on political power and its nine-member Politburo Standing Committee makes most important political decisions and sets government policy. Party members hold almost all top posts in government, the military, and the internal security services, as well as in many economic entities and social organizations.
The CCP controls the judiciary and directs verdicts and sentences, particularly in politically sensitive cases. Judicial autonomy is greater in commercial litigation and civil suits involving private individuals. A party veteran with no formal legal training was appointed as chief justice in 2008, and he subsequently issued a doctrine emphasizing the “Supremacy of the Cause of the Party” over the law. In 2009, the government accelerated a crackdown on civil rights lawyers, law firms, and NGOs offering legal services. In March, authorities shut down the Beijing-based law firm Yitong, known for representing victims of corruption or rights abuses. In May, over 20 lawyers were effectively disbarred when their license registrations were rejected, and several were physically assaulted during the year. In November, Wang Yonghang, a lawyer from Dalian in northeastern China, was sentenced to seven years in prison for defending Falun Gong practitioners, the harshest term given to an attorney in recent memory. Prominent lawyer Gao Zhisheng remained “disappeared” and at severe risk of torture following his abduction by security forces in February.
Domestic violence and sexual harassment affect one-third of Chinese families, according to statistics published in November 2008 by the CCP-controlled All-China Women’s Federation. The government has taken steps in recent years to improve the legal framework related to violence against women, but implementation remains weak. The case of female hotel worker Deng Yujiao, who killed a local official as he tried to rape her in May 2009, drew public sympathy and stimulated discussion of the need to protect women’s rights.