Human rights in China

Although there is some evidence that the Chinese government has improved the rights of their people in a few areas, human rights groups such as Asia Watch and Amnesty International claim the rights of people in China are frequently abused.

Chinese criminal justice system

Unlike in the UK, the human rights of people accused of a crime in China are not protected by law.

Arrest and imprisonment

Women prisoners carry dining utensils at a prison in Beijing, China
Women prisoners carry dining utensils at a prison in Beijing, China

In China, people suspected of a crime are often arrested for long periods of time without appearing for trial. Those under arrest are often denied a lawyer or family visits and may be beaten to obtain a confession.

Human rights groups estimate that tens of thousands of people in China are currently being held without trial. Punishment in China is severe. A minor theft can carry a sentence of five years in prison.

Court trials

Court trials in China can be held in secret. The accused may be denied a lawyer and is not always allowed to speak in their own defence. Once the prosecution has made their case the judge makes a decision. There is little opportunity for an appeal, although the Chinese government have made promises to improve the way court trials work.

Death penalty

In China, there are 55 crimes that carry the death penalty. These include embezzlement and robbery.

In recent years it is believed that China has executed more people than the rest of the world put together. The number of executions per year is a state secret. Amnesty International believes the figure annually could be several thousand.

Recently, the number of crimes punishable by death fell from 68 to 55. Crimes that no longer carry the death penalty include minor theft and fraud.

Few people are now put to death for non-violent crime. Also, young people under the ages of 18 at the time of an offence can no longer be given the death penalty. All death penalty cases are subject to review.

Reform of labour camps

Prisoners making lamps in a Youth Detention Centre, Chengdu, China, 1985
Prisoners making lamps in a Youth Detention Centre, Chengdu, China, 1985

In the past, some of those found guilty of a crime would have been sent to labour camps. Here they would have been subjected to 're-education'. Re-education involved a mixture of beatings and 'brain-washing'.

Prisoners were also forced to undertake hard and dangerous work.

For example, prisoners were set targets for collecting tea from fields. These could see them work 16 hours per day.

Others worked with toxic chemicals in factories without proper safety equipment such as gloves and goggles. Complaints or failure to meet a target could result in beatings or the use of solitary confinement. Prisoners were also regularly denied sleep and food.

In early 2013, President Xi promised to review the use of labour camps. Within the year it was widely reported that most labour camps had been closed and hundreds of prisoners released.