Prisoners political pawns
DESPITE recent releases of a handful of political prisoners, political repression is increasing across China, the human rights group Asia Watch said yesterday.
It accused China of engaging in ''hostage politik'' - the policy of releasing a few prisoners as bargaining chips to win political points at critical times, such as during United States Congress debates over renewal of China's Most Favoured Nation trading status.
''Western governments use these releases as evidence of improvement, ignoring the tens of thousands of prisoners who have not benefited from international attention, and the hundreds of new arrests that take place yearly; some 250 in 1993 alone,'' Asia Watch said.
The report said: ''1993 was without doubt the worst year for political arrests and trials in China since mid-1990 and the aftermath of the June 4, 1989, crackdown on the pro-democracy movement.'' The 664-page report, which Asia Watch called the ''most comprehensive account of arbitrary detention ever published'', detailed about 1,700 people being detained for political, ethnic or religious beliefs.
The detainees range from a man under a death sentence for printing, among other things, a marriage manual, to 11 Tibetan nuns arrested in a ''re-education campaign''.
Some of the detainees have been held since the late 1970s.
The report documents 32 trials of dissidents which resulted in average sentences of four years' imprisonment, and 216 new arrests last year.
Eighty per cent of the cases were in Tibet where, according to the New York-based human rights group, the Chinese Government last year intensified its campaign against peaceful pro-independence activities carried out by Buddhist monks and nuns.
In addition, Asia Watch received information about arrests or trials of some 140 people whose names have not yet been ascertained.
Asia Watch said that while the total number of people detained in China and Tibet for peaceful political and religious activities was not known, it ''is surely far higher than the 3,317 figure given by the Chinese Government as the number of sentenced'counter-revolutionaries'.'' The Chinese Government has never produced a list of these detainees, it noted.
''Detained in China'' lists nearly 100 people serving sentences of 10 years to life.
''A clear symbol of the retrograde direction taken by the Chinese leadership over human rights issues in recent years, these long-term political prisoners of the 1990s should be the yardstick against which any evaluation of 'overall significant progress'by the regime is made,'' Asia Watch said.
The report also lists more than 1,000 prisoners released since June 1989 after months or years of detention without trial, and says that many of them face continued persecution and remain at high risk of being rearrested for their political activities.
Asia Watch calls on the international community to press for an adequate Chinese government accounting of all political prisoners, access to prisoners by independent humanitarian or rights monitoring groups, and for release of detainees.
The report expresses concerns about the Chinese judicial system. Noting that often court verdicts follow virtually verbatim the text of prosecution indictments, the report says that guilt is predetermined and verdicts are decided in advance.
Detainees are denied access to a defence lawyer until the prosecution has completed its case, while long-term detention without trial leads to police torture and ill-treatment, Asia Watch said.