Friday, November 13, 2009
Human Rights Watch report raises troubling questions about China
If it is indeed true that China's government is permitting local authorities to operate secret jails in Beijing where citizens are mistreated, it's time for the United States to re-evaluate trade relations with the world's most populous nation. Of course, we're not talking about returning to the days of complete non-engagement -- the U.S. and China are far too interdependent economically for that. Rather, it is because we are so tied together economically that China would be likely to respect and comply with reasonable demands to restrain its totalitarian tendencies. Beijing certainly understood that its decision to become part of the world economy meant unprecedented scrutiny of its internal affairs and, as a result, an obligation to conduct itself in a more transparent and civilized manner. That's why Thursday's report from the nonprofit group Human Rights Watch is so troubling. The report alleges that the government in Beijing permits local governments to operate a system of secret prisons in which prisoners are routinely mistreated, according to the New York Times. Abuse is routine even in detention centers run by the national government but is even worse in the unofficial jails, the report said. "We're talking about a country with torture in formal detention centers, and the black jails are 10 floors down" in terms of treatment of detainees, said Sophie Richardson, the group's advocacy director for Asia. Richardson said abuses that were widespread in China’s official prison system, which has some judicial supervision, were even worse in unofficial jails, which have no oversight. But China denies that the unofficial detention system exists. “There are no black jails in China,” Qin Gang, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in Beijing on Thursday, the Times said. “If citizens have complaints and suggestions about government work, they can convey them to the relevant authorities through legitimate and normal channels.” But Human Rights Watch said China's system for protecting detainees was being subverted by local officials, who had an incentive to block such complaints from reaching national officials. The issue is considered serious enough by the U.S. government for President Barack Obama to raise when he meets next week in Beijing with Chinese President Hu Jintao, according to National Security Council official Jeffrey Bader, the Times said.