Associated Press

Beijing, January 14:

China remains “highly repressive,” with routine violations of basic rights and widespread corruption despite promises of legal and political reform, the US-based group Human Rights Watch said today. The one-party communist government has taken steps to improve its legal system but still prohibits independent labour unions and religious groups, censors the press and interferes in court cases, the group said in an annual report.

“While China has made progress in some areas in recent years ... it remains a highly repressive state,” the report said. The report highlighted widespread complaints of continued abuses despite Chinese pledges of reform. Communist leaders amended the nation’s constitution last year to declare respect for human rights and hold regular dialogues with the United States and European governments, but activists say that such contacts have accomplished little.

Human Rights Watch complained of a “culture of impunity” for abusive officials and said a justice system that relies heavily on confessions leads police to torture suspects. The report said that in its campaign against separatists in its northwestern Muslim region of Xinjiang, China also has tried to crush peaceful dissent. It said the campaign is marked by “systematic human rights violations including arbitrary arrests, closed trials and extensive use of the death penalty.” Human Rights Watch welcomed promises last year by communist leaders to reform the ruling party’s internal workings and to promote the rule of law. But it said that such commitments have “been compromised by continuing widespread official corruption (and) party interference in the justice system.”

And though the government allows more independent news reporting, it tightened controls last year on the Internet and other media, expanding a list of topics for censorship and banning reporting on rural land seizures, the report said. Human Rights Watch also complained of abuses against Chinese workers and residents who are evicted for real estate development. Workers “have yet to reap the benefits” of China’s two-decade-old economic boom due to lack of enforcement of safety and wage laws, the report said.

It noted that many areas of the country have seen massive labour protests. Human Rights Watch called on the US and other governments that hold human rights dialogues with China to set specific goals for improvement and a timetable for achieving them.