- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2001

The use of torture has surged in China, with the targets ranging from political dissidents and religious activists to vagrants, prostitutes and tax delinquents, according to a major new survey.

The report, released yesterday by the human rights advocacy group Amnesty International, details more than 70 specific cases of torture administered by Chinese authorities, and cites evidence and press reports of hundreds more such incidents.

The survey comes a month before the annual U.N. Commission on Human Rights meeting in Geneva, where activists are lobbying for a resolution condemning Beijing.

"The phenomenon of torture is not new in China, but we believe it is certainly on the rise recently," said T. Kumar, advocacy director for Asia in Amnesty International's Washington office.

The new Bush administration has already clashed with China over human rights, with Secretary of State Colin Powell pointedly raising U.S. concerns in a private meeting with China's departing U.S. ambassador.

And yesterday, 30 U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to Chinese President Jiang Zemin, slamming China's human rights record. A copy of the letter was obtained by the Agence France-Presse news agency.

"We remain deeply concerned about serious violations of internationally recognized human rights in China," said the congressmen, all of whom supported President Clinton's historic trade pact with China passed last year.

The Amnesty report is a gruesome catalog of reported abuses, including infanticide, starvation, beatings, coerced confessions, electric shocks, rape, forced feedings and suspicious deaths in detention.

"We are increasingly getting solid information about different officials implicated in torture and new methods being used," Mr. Kumar said.

Among the organized groups within China that have been targeted are Tibetan monks, activists from the predominantly Muslim Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, and practitioners of the religious Falun Gong movement, which Beijing insists is a subversive sect.

"Many [political prisoners] report being beaten with whatever implement a guard or interrogator can find to hand, including gun butts," according to the report. "Prisoners are often beaten around the head, or kicked in the stomach, lower back or genitals… . Kidney and liver ailments are common among prisoners as a result of kicking and beatings by prison guards aimed specifically at these sensitive organs."

Said Erping Zhang, U.S. spokesman for the Falun Gong, "We are in the middle of a brutal crackdown." He said at least 100 Falun Gong adherents had died in detention in China.

"We are suffering the same fate as the other religions, but we are struggling on our own for our religious freedom," the spokesman said. "We understand that we are not the only group being persecuted for their beliefs in China."

Chinese Embassy officials here said they had not seen the report prior to its release and would not comment on the specifics.

In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement noting that Chinese law bans torture.

There is "no factual basis to think there is a 'systemic and large-scale' practice of torture in China," the ministry statement said.

Amnesty International, which has criticized China's human rights record in the past, initiated a global campaign in October against torture, charging that even democracies such as the United States and Britain were guilty.

The organization considers capital punishment used in both China and the United States as "the ultimate form of cruel, inhuman degrading punishment." Amnesty International has also charged that blacks in the United States are disproportionately victimized by police brutality.

Past human rights reports on China have tracked torture and ill treatment given to political prisoners and those sentenced to labor camps. But Mr. Kumar said the latest survey found a much wider circle of officials employing torture, including local police officers, tax collectors, authorities overseeing China's strict birth control statutes, prosecutors and workers in psychiatric hospitals.

"You don't always need a specific order from the top officials in Beijing to go torture A, B, C and D," Mr. Kumar said.

"But we see many cases where the central authorities give the green light to 'get results' and the local officials take it from there," he said. "And when people do raise the torture issue, it doesn't get investigated."

In one of China's so-called "Strike Hard" campaigns, police in Henan Province killed a businessman and his bodyguard in a hail of machine-gun fire when they were stopped at a tollgate. The officers justified the shooting as part of a "heightened state of alert" ordered by higher-level officials to crack down on car theft.

But the Amnesty International study also noted that China's own media were responsible for uncovering many of the instances of official corruption and torture but only if the abuses were not related to political protests.

"We are seeing more boldness from the Chinese press," he said, "but only in cases where the authority of the Communist Party is not threatened."

Mr. Kumar said the new report on torture in China reinforced his group's demand that the Bush administration take public action by sponsoring a resolution in Geneva next month critical of China.

The Bush administration has not indicated whether it will back the resolution, which the Clinton administration supported last spring.

"If you're serious about human rights, you can't just do it in private meetings," Mr. Kumar said.

• Tom Carter contributed to this report.

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