The human rights situation in China has deteriorated in the past year as Beijing clamped down on free expression and used force to suppress social unrest, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
The US-based group also condemned China for using its growing economic clout around the world to protect abusive governments in Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe.
"There has been a significant backsliding on human rights and we are seeing that principally in terms of increasing restrictions on what it's possible to say in the press -- certainly what it's possible to say on the Internet," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
The reversal over the past two years corresponded with the ascent in 2003 of Chinese President Hu Jintao (
Roth did not elaborate on the role of Hu in human rights problems, which he said took place amid major social unrest and with a weak legal system unable to address rampant disputes.
The report said China's leaders "have responded to the increasing social mobilization with a multifaceted crackdown on demonstrators and their allies and with repression of means for disseminating information and organizing protests, particularly the Internet."
China has jailed some 60 people for peaceful expression of opinion on the Internet and imposes sophisticated Internet controls known as the "Great Firewall of China," it said.
Roth said many of the abuses served to fuel the unrest Beijing leaders were trying to prevent. The annual report cited a Chinese government tally of 74,000 protests involving 3.5 million people in 2004.
"Rather than recognizing that rule of law and greater freedom of the press and association as being antidotes to this unrest, they are shutting things down," he said.
The report said China's "quest for natural resources combined with its stated policy of `noninterference in domestic affairs' led to its bolstering of corrupt and repressive regimes in Africa, Latin America and Asia, to the disadvantage of the people of these regions."