China’s human rights record worsened last year as the government stepped up crackdowns on dissidents and minorities in Tibet, with abuses peaking around high profile events like the Beijing Olympics, the US State Department said on Wednesday.
China continued to tighten restrictions on religious freedom in Tibet and Xinjiang and to harass and arrest political activists, journalists and lawyers, its human rights report said.
“The government of China’s human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas,” the report said.
The report also accused China of increasing the detention and harassment of dissidents and limiting citizens’ right to privacy, freedom of speech, assembly, movement and association.
Authorities also committed extrajudicial killings and torture, coerced confessions from prisoners and used forced labor, it said.
The report’s release comes days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton returned from her first trip abroad, which concluded with a stop in Beijing.
Clinton drew criticism from human rights groups after saying the US would not allow human rights concerns to interfere with work on critical issues such as rescuing the global economy, global warming and dealing with security threats.
Clinton introduced the report at a press conference and stated her commitment to human rights without specifically addressing China.
China launched a crackdown in Tibet last year that prompted worldwide outrage only months before it hosted the Olympics.
Chinese state media blasted the report yesterday, calling the allegations groundless and accusing Washington of interfering in its internal affairs.
China’s official Xinhua news agency said the report interfered in the country’s internal affairs and ignored China’s achievements in human rights, which Beijing defines mainly as improvements to living standards.
“It willfully ignored and distorted basic facts, groundlessly assailing China’s human rights conditions and making random and irresponsible remarks on China’s ethnic, religious and legal systems,” Xinhua said.
Issued every year since 1977, the report is used by Washington as “an excuse to interfere with others’ internal affairs,” Xinhua said.
This year’s report was largely drafted during former president George W. Bush’s administration, although Clinton signed off on the findings.
Rights group Amnesty International praised the State Department report for what it called its “candid review of the worsening human rights situation in China.”
It called on the administration of US President Barack Obama to integrate the findings into a “foreign policy that not only acknowledges and denounces, but also takes concrete steps to effectively address the unacceptable state of human rights in its bilateral and multilateral forums with China.”
The Chinese government had no immediate statement on the report, although Xinhua generally serves as the government’s mouthpiece.
Beijing last year reported a nearly doubling of arrests for state security crimes in Xinjiang. Authorities also rejected requests to stage peaceful protests during the August Beijing Olympics and harassed and detained intellectuals and dissidents who signed a call for greater political freedoms titled Charter 08.
One of the country’s best-known human rights activists, Hu Jia, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison last April and the law firm that represented him and other activists has recently been ordered to close for six months for helping lawyers without licenses to work.