Before China's election to the new UN Human Rights Council, it made a number of human rights-related pledges, including ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and active co-operation with the UN on human rights. Chinese companies continued to export arms to countries where they were likely to be used for serious human rights abuses, including Sudan and Myanmar.
Human rights defenders
The government crackdown on lawyers and housing rights activists intensified. Many human rights defenders were subjected to lengthy periods of arbitrary detention without charge, as well as harassment by the police or by local gangs apparently condoned by the police. Many lived under near constant surveillance or house arrest and members of their families were increasingly targeted. New regulations restricted the ability of lawyers to represent groups of victims and to participate in collective petitions.
• Gao Zhisheng, an outspoken human rights lawyer, had his law practice suspended in November 2005. He was detained in August 2006 and remained in incommunicado detention at an unknown location until his trial in December 2006. In October he was formally arrested on charges of "inciting subversion", and in December he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment, suspended for five years.
Journalists and Internet users
The government's crackdown on journalists, writers, and Internet users intensified. Numerous popular newspapers and journals were shut down. Hundreds of international websites remained blocked and thousands of Chinese websites were shut down. Dozens of journalists were detained for reporting on sensitive issues.
The government strengthened systems for blocking, filtering, and monitoring the flow of information. New regulations came into effect requiring foreign news agencies to gain approval from China's official news agency in order to publish any news. Many foreign journalists were detained for short periods.
Discrimination against rural migrants
Rural migrant workers in China's cities faced wide-ranging discrimination. Despite official commitment to resolve the problem, millions of migrant workers were still owed back pay. The vast majority were excluded from urban health insurance schemes and could not afford private health care. Access to public education remained tenuous for millions of migrant children, in contrast to other urban residents. An estimated
20 million migrant children were unable to live with their parents in the cities in part because of insecure schooling.
• Beijing municipal authorities closed dozens of migrant schools in September, affecting thousands of migrant children. While authorities claimed to have targeted unregistered and sub-standard schools, onerous demands made it nearly impossible for migrant schools to be registered. Some school staff believed the closures were aimed at reducing the migrant population in Beijing ahead of the 2008 Olympics.
Violence and discrimination against women
Violence and discrimination against women remained severe. The disadvantaged economic and social status of women and girls was evident in employment, health care and education. Women were laid off in larger numbers than men from failing state enterprises. Women accounted for 60 per cent of rural labourers and had fewer non-agricultural opportunities than men. The absence of gender-sensitive anti-HIV/AIDS policies contributed to a significant rise in female HIV/AIDS cases in 2006. Only 43 per cent of girls in rural areas completed education above lower middle school, compared with 61 per cent of boys.
Despite strengthened laws and government efforts to combat human trafficking, it remained pervasive, with an estimated 90 per cent of cases being women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation.
• Chen Guangcheng, a blind, self-trained lawyer, was sentenced in August to a prison term of four years and three months on charges of "damaging public property and gathering people to stop traffic". He had been arbitrarily confined to his home since September 2005 in connection with his advocacy on behalf of women undergoing forced abortions in Shandong Province. On appeal, the guilty verdict was overturned and the case sent back to the lower court for retrial, but the lower court upheld the original sentence.
Repression of spiritual and religious groups
The government continued to crack down on religious observance outside officially sanctioned channels. Thousands of members of underground protestant "house churches" and unofficial Catholic churches were detained, many of whom were ill-treated or tortured in detention. Members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement were detained and assigned to administrative detention for their beliefs, and continued to be at high risk of torture or ill-treatment.
• Bu Dongwei, a Falun Gong practitioner, was assigned to two and a half years' Re-education through Labour in June for "activities relating to a banned organization" after police discovered Falun Gong literature at his home. He had been working for a US aid organization when he was detained.
• Pastor Zhang Rongliang, an underground church leader who had been repeatedly detained and imprisoned since 1976, was sentenced in June to seven and a half years' imprisonment on charges of illegally crossing the border and fraudulently obtaining a passport.
The death penalty continued to be used extensively to punish around 68 crimes, including economic and non-violent crimes. Based on public reports, AI estimated that at least 1,010 people were executed and 2,790 sentenced to death during 2006, although the true figures were believed to be much higher.
The National People's Congress passed a law reinstating a final review of all death penalty cases by the Supreme People's Court from 2007. Commentators believed this would lead to a reduction in miscarriages of justice and use of the death penalty.
Executions by lethal injection rose, facilitating the extraction of organs from executed prisoners, a lucrative business. In November a deputy minister announced that the majority of transplanted organs came from executed prisoners. In July new regulations banned the buying and selling of organs and required written consent from donors for organ removal.
• Xu Shuangfu, the leader of an unofficial Protestant group called "Three Grades of Servants", was executed along with 11 others in November after being convicted of murdering 20 members of another group, "Eastern Lightning", in 2003-4. Xu Shuangfu reportedly claimed that he had confessed under torture during police interrogation and that the torture had included beatings with heavy chains and sticks, electric shocks to the toes, fingers and genitals and forced injection of hot pepper, gasoline and ginger into the nose. Both the first instance and appeal courts reportedly refused to allow his lawyers to introduce these allegations as evidence in his defence.
Torture, arbitrary detention and unfair trials
Torture and ill-treatment remained widespread. Common methods included kicking, beating, electric shocks, suspension by the arms, shackling in painful positions, cigarette burns, and sleep and food deprivation. In November a senior official admitted that at least 30 wrongful convictions handed down each year resulted from the use of torture, with the true number likely being higher. There was no progress in efforts to reform the Re-education through Labour system of administrative detention without charge or trial. Hundreds of thousands of people were believed to be held in Re-education through Labour facilities across China and were at risk of torture and ill-treatment. In May 2006, the Beijing city authorities announced their intention to extend their use of Re-education through Labour as a way to control "offending behaviour" and to clean up the city's image ahead of the Olympics.
• Ye Guozhu was sentenced to four years' imprisonment in 2004 for his opposition to forced evictions in Beijing associated with construction for the Olympic games. It emerged during 2006 that Ye had been tortured while in detention. He was reportedly suspended from the ceiling by the arms and beaten repeatedly by police in Dongcheng district detention centre, Beijing, and also reportedly tortured in another prison in the second half of 2005.
Uighurs in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region
Government authorities in Xinjiang continued to severely repress the Uighur community and to deny their human rights, including freedom of religion and access to education. An increased number of Uighurs were extradited to China from Central Asia, reflecting growing pressure by China on governments in the region. Seventeen Uighurs remained in detention in Guantánamo Bay.
• The family of exiled former prisoner of conscience Rebiya Kadeer continued to be targeted by the Chinese authorities. On 26 November her son Ablikim Abdiriyim, detained in Xinjiang awaiting trial on charges of "subversion" and tax evasion, was seen being carried out of Tianshan District Detention
Centre, apparently in need of medical attention. On 27 November her sons Alim and Kahar Abdiriyim were fined heavily and Alim sentenced to seven years' imprisonment on charges of tax evasion.
• Husein Celil, a Canadian citizen who fled China in the 1990s as a refugee, was arrested in Uzbekistan and extradited to China in June. He was reportedly accused of "terrorism" and denied access to family or consular representatives.
Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region and other areas experienced severe restrictions on their rights to freedom of religious belief, expression and association, and discrimination in employment. Many were detained or imprisoned for observing their religion or expressing opinions, including Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns. Excessive use of force against Tibetans seeking to flee repression in Tibet continued. In September witnesses saw Chinese border patrol guards shooting at a group of Tibetans attempting to reach Nepal. At least one child was confirmed killed.
• Woeser, a leading Tibetan intellectual, had her weblog shut down several times after she raised questions about China's role in Tibet.
• Sonam Gyalpo, a former monk, was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment in mid-2006 for "endangering state security" after the authorities found videos of the Dalai Lama and other "incriminating materials" in his house. His family learned of his trial and sentencing when they tried to visit him in detention.
North Korean refugees
Approximately 100,000 North Koreans were reportedly hiding in China. The authorities arrested and deported an estimated 150-300 each week without ever referring cases to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. They also reportedly implemented a system of rewards for turning in North Koreans and heavy fines for supporting them. In September a new crackdown was reported on North Koreans residing illegally in China.
Abuse of North Korean women in China was widely reported, including cases of systematic rape and prostitution. North Korean women were reportedly sold as brides to Chinese men for between US$880 and US$1,890. Some women knew they were being sold into marriage but did not know how harsh conditions in China would be. Others were lured across the border by marriage brokers posing as merchants.
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
All 14 South Koreans charged with "unlawful assembly" after protesting outside World Trade Organization meetings in December 2005 were acquitted in early 2006, sparking renewed calls for an independent inquiry into the actions of the police during the protests.
The UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviewed the human rights situation in Hong Kong in March and August respectively. Both made several recommendations for reform.
In September, the Hong Kong Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling that laws providing a higher age of consent for sexual relations for gay men than for heterosexuals were discriminatory. The authorities announced that they would not appeal the case further.
Asylum-seekers continued to be refused entry without adequate consideration of their claims. Others were detained for over-staying their visas or other immigration offences. Despite lobbying from human rights and social welfare groups, the authorities confirmed that there were no plans to extend the UN Refugee Convention to Hong Kong. The authorities began to offer limited welfare assistance to asylum-seekers after UNHCR ceased its funding in May, but this was reportedly insufficient to meet basic needs.
AI country reports/visits
• People's Republic of China: Abolishing "Re-education through Labour" and other forms of administrative detention - An opportunity to bring the law into line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (AI Index: ASA 17/016/2006)
• People's Republic of China: Sustaining conflict and human rights abuses - The flow of arms accelerates (AI Index: ASA 17/030/2006)
• People's Republic of China: The Olympics count-down - failing to keep human rights promises (AI Index: ASA 17/046/2006)
• Undermining freedom of expression in China: the role of Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google (AI Index: POL 30/026/2006)
AI representatives attended several human rights-related meetings in Beijing and Shenzhen.