A U.S.-based rights watchdog has criticised China in a survey, saying the world's most populous country remains a "highly repressive state" where the government routinely violates basic freedoms. File photograph of delegates arriving at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. REUTERS/Andrew Wong
BEIJING - A U.S.-based rights watchdog has criticised China in a survey, saying the world's most populous country remains a "highly repressive state" where the government routinely violates basic freedoms.
In its 15th annual world report, Human Rights Watch conceded on Friday that China had made some progress in protecting rights, but said the ruling Communist Party was not making good on pledges to enforce the rule of law.
"The party's 2004 promise to uphold the rule of law has been compromised by continuing widespread official corruption, party interference in the justice system and a culture of impunity for officials and their families," it said.
"While China has made progress in some areas in recent years strengthening its legal system, allowing more independent news reporting, and sometimes tailoring public policy more closely to public opinion, it remains a highly repressive state."
China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the country's rights record was not perfect, but that the report was biased, irresponsible and politically motivated.
A string of riots and protests in rural areas in recent months -- signs of discontent over rampant corruption and a widening gap between rich and poor -- have been handled by armed police and kept out of the domestic press.
"Leaders continue to isolate areas of discontent, and aim to prevent information about social problems from spreading," the Human Rights Watch report said.
The Communist Party's tight grip on the press extends to the burgeoning Internet, where China filters content, blocks some foreign sites and patrols content for politically sensitive statements, which it quickly deletes.
"The tension between promoting Internet use and controlling content escalated in 2004, with Chinese authorities employing increasingly sophisticated technology to limit public and private expression," the report said.
Protection of human rights was written into China's state constitution in March last year, but critics dismissed it as a tactical move aimed at consolidating communist rule and maintaining social stability.
China's oblique legal system also made the constitution impossible to enforce, the report said.
It said the legal system ignored the millions of migrant workers, leaving them with limited room for redress against mistreatment.
The report criticised the government's harsh control in the far western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, where China is sensitive to any separatist sentiment.
In Muslim-majority Xinjiang, China continued to use its support for the war on terror "to leverage international support for, or at least acquiescence in, its own crackdown on Uighurs", the report said referring to the main ethnic group in Xinjiang.
The campaign "has been characterised by ... arbitrary arrests, closed trials, and extensive use of the death penalty", it said.
Religious and cultural expression continued to be curtailed in Tibet, it said.
The report also criticised the government for ruling out universal suffrage for Hong Kong until 2012-13 at the earliest.
China's military crackdown on student protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, remains a taboo subject.
"The government still forbids any public commemoration of the event. Police harass and detain those dedicated to securing rehabilitation of victims, payment of compensation, or reconsideration of the official verdict," the report said.
China refers to the 1989 protests as a "counter-revolutionary rebellion."