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US Accuses China of Tightening Restrictions on Journalists, Activists

Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Michael Posner (file photo)
Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Michael Posner (file photo)

U.S. State Department officials say China's poor human-rights record worsened last year with increasing harassment and detention of human-rights activists.

Speaking to reporters about the annual State Department Human Rights report, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Michael Posner drew special attention to what he called a "real crackdown" of activists in China during the past several years and greater restrictions on non-governmental organizations.

"There is a sense that the space is actually closing for those - whether they are journalists, lawyers, or NGO activists," said Michael Posner.

Posner said two cases from last year were of particular concern to the U.S. government.

One was the sentencing of Liu Xiaobo, who was convicted of subverting state power and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Liu was sentenced to prison for helping start an online petition - Charter 08 - that calls for the expansion of human rights and democracy in China.

The other case was the detention of Chinese human-rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng whose whereabouts until recently where unknown.

Gao was reportedly taken away by security officials more than a year ago. But last month, the Chinese embassy in Washington e-mailed a U.S. rights group to say he was living in remote Xinjiang Province.

Posner also noted the State Department had just learned of a new press certification system in China that would require Chinese journalists to receive training in Marxist news theories.

Human Rights Watch Asia advocacy director Sophie Richardson said the past year in China was bleak.

"I think the past year was worse than the previous year," said Sophie Richardson. "If you even just look at the month of December, when in that space of two weeks we saw Liu Xiaobo get an 11-year sentence, we saw the Chinese government lean on Cambodia to send 20 Uighurs back and we saw for the first time in 50 years, the Chinese government execute a foreigner."

Richardson adds that such acts by China are not just statements about the poor climate for human rights there.

"I think it is also a pretty powerful statement of how dismissive, increasingly dismissive the Chinese government is of other government's concerns about human rights and that is not a good sign," she said.

In its report on China, the State Department report also voiced concerns about what it called the "severe cultural and religious repression" of ethnic Uighur minorities in Xinjiang as well as continued tight government controls in Tibetan areas throughout China.

It also noted that last year abuses peaked around high-profile events, such as the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square uprising and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

China has yet to respond to the State Department report, but typically releases its own human-rights report in response. China's report, which is also released annually, focuses on human-rights conditions in the United States.