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Inside the bamboo gulag: China has developed a huge prison network for the punishment of those who dare to criticize the government.

In a world where many countries routinely ignore human rights, China stands out as a major offender.

In Western democracies, free enterprise goes hand in hand with political freedoms: free speech, freedom of religion, minority rights, and basic individual rights to just treatment under the law. None of these rights exist in China.

Old, hard-line Communist Party men dictate policy. Dissent is a word which terrifies these aging leaders. They fear that even a breath of tolerance would open a crack which would widen to bring down the whole power structure. At all costs, they must keep an iron lid on dissent.

Since the events of 1989 in Tiananmen Square (see sidebar), China has shown little or no improvement in its regard for human rights. Each year, as an anniversary of the 4 June massacre approaches, the leaders renew a crackdown on dissenters: security men watch their every move, harass them, or arrest them on vague, trumped-up charges.

Each year, the long catalogue of Chinese-style justice grows. In 1991, five dissenters were given sentences of two to seven years in jail. These five, as with almost everyone arrested for speaking out against the government, were convicted before they entered the court. They could appeal, of course, but there, too, their chances were, and still are, close to zero.

In 1992, New York-based Asia Watch estimated that at least 151 of the 1989 protesters were still in jails or labour camps. Former prisoners tell of being tortured with electric prods or shackled to a board. In the spring of 1994, Human Rights Watch/asia upped the estimate, reporting that at least 200 of the Tiananmen Square activists were still in jail, some serving sentences of 10 years or more. There were allegations that dissidents are often shackled in solitar-y punishment cells and that they are denied adequate food rations and medical care.

In 1995, five researchers at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing were fired. Their "crime" was to have been involved in publishing a book about the Tiananmen Square massacre.
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Author:White, Charles A.
Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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