US & World

After lauding ties with China, US lists the rights abuses

A pro-democracy activist holds a yellow umbrella in front of a police line on a street in Mongkok district on November 25, 2014 in Hong Kong.
A pro-democracy activist holds a yellow umbrella in front of a police line on a street in Mongkok district on November 25, 2014 in Hong Kong.
File photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

After heralding U.S. ties with China this week, the State Department shed light Thursday on an issue that got little public attention during the high-level talks in Washington: human rights.

Repression of activists in China was routine, and tens of thousands of political prisoners remained incarcerated, according to the department's annual review of human rights conditions around the world. The report, which covers 2014, said the Chinese government denied holding any political prisoners.

Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski said that draft legislation on nongovernment organizations appears to call into question China's commitment to opening to the world. The law could potentially affect businesses, cultural and educational exchange, and people working on rule of law and human rights.

He said the issue was raised at the security and economic talks that ended in Washington Wednesday.

"We're very concerned about the implications of it and about the rhetoric of fear of cultural infiltration that the Chinese government is using to justify this law domestically and what that says about China's future development," Malinowski told reporters.

Another Asian nation that figures prominently in the report is former pariah nation Myanmar, where the Obama administration restored diplomatic ties and eased sanctions after it shifted from decades of military rule.

But abuses against minority Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine State in the west of the country were a "severely troubling counterpoint" to the progress since 2011, the report said. The government released "one or two" political prisoners during the year, but continued to arrest new ones, with more than 80 estimated to be in detention at the end of 2014.

This number did not include detainees in Rakhine State, estimated to be in the hundreds, the report said.

Meanwhile in Thailand, America's oldest ally in Asia, more than 900 political leaders, academics and journalists were temporarily detained after a military coup in May 2014. The coup leaders repealed the constitution, and imposed restrictions on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and the press.

Since the military takeover, there has also been an increase in cases brought under a repressive law that punishes criticism of the monarchy with up to 15 years imprisonment.

In Vietnam, where the U.S. hopes membership in a proposed Pacific rim trade pact can be leverage to improve human rights conditions, the report said authorities of the communist government continued to suppress peaceful expression online through politically motivated arrests and convictions of bloggers.

While the number of independent nongovernment organizations grew substantially in the one-party state, the government sharply controlled their registration, including human rights organizations. Police still mistreated suspects during arrest and detention, and the judicial system was opaque and politically influenced.

As usual, there was no good news in the report about North Korea, where a U.N. commission of inquiry reported last year on crimes against humanity.

Defectors continued to report public executions, disappearances, arbitrary arrest and torture. There were reports of severe punishment of repatriated refugees. The government maintained a network of political prison camps in which conditions were inhuman, and prisoners were subjected to forced labor and not expected to survive.