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China Pushes Back on US Criticism of Human Rights

  • Shannon Sant

Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, who flew to the United States last week, said China's handling of the local officials who harassed and abused him and his family will determine whether the country can begin to achieve rule of law, May 24, 2012.
BEIJING - China Friday pushed back against U.S. criticism of its human rights record in the past year, calling it “filled with prejudice.” But while Beijing defended its record, blind lawyer and government critic Chen Guangcheng says the country has progress to make in ensuring the rule of law.

China’s government criticized the U.S. State Department’s annual assessment of human rights issues that said Beijing had increased efforts to silence dissidents and lawyers through the use of house arrest and enforced disappearance.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei spoke to reporters in Beijing.

He says the China related content is filled with prejudice and disregards the facts and confuses right and wrong. He says more than 30 years of reform and opening up China’s human rights record has achieved remarkable progress.

Hong says that the Chinese people have the biggest say about the human rights situation in China.

The State Department report included a description of the harassment of blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who made a daring escape after being kept for several years under house arrest by local officials in his village in Shandong Province.

Chen Guangcheng had represented women who were victims of forced sterilization and abortions. His escape pushed the issues of rule of law and human rights to the forefront of news coverage of China, and created a diplomatic crisis with the United States.

China granted permission for Chen and his immediate family to move to the United States and they arrived in New York on Saturday.

In one of his first television interviews since his arrival with Reuters news agency, he called for the prosecution of the officials who kept him under house arrest and said he is deeply concerned for the welfare of his extended family in Shandong Province.

He says if the central government quickly investigates and deals with these officials who have violated China’s laws, then China can move towards a path of the rule of law as quickly as possible. But he says if local officials continue to act wildly and as they wish, perhaps in the near future my family’s situation will not be good, and I think construction of the rule of law the central government has undertaken during the last few decades will be thoroughly ruined.

This week Chen Guangcheng’s brother made his own escape from Shandong, after his son was charged by Shandong police with “intentional homicide.” Chen worries other members of his family will face torture and persecution by local authorities.

He says now my older brother escapes house arrest and comes to Beijing in search of a lawyer for my nephew. This is an extremely normal thing and the most basic right of a Chinese citizen.

Chen says, if his nephew’s legal rights cannot be assured, then it is a sign that the development of China’s legal system in the past few decades has already been undone by law breaking officials within the judicial system.

In 2008 the United State dropped China from its list of the worst human rights abusers, but this year’s report says human rights conditions in China have deteriorated. It accuses authorities of continuing to commit serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial detentions and house arrests.

China has long rejected outside criticism of human rights abuses as interference in its internal affairs - a view echoed by spokesman Hong Lei in Beijing Friday.

He says countries can have equal dialogue to enhance mutual understanding and promote each other, but such issues should never be used as a tool to attack others or interfere in other countries internal affairs.

The annual State Department report is mandated by Congress and runs several hundred pages long. This year the report praised Myanmar and Tunisia for positive changes in improving civil liberties, including freeing political prisoners and lifting restrictions on freedom of the media, assembly and association.

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