02/09/2009, 00.00
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United Nations to “rule” on China’s respect for human rights

Today in Geneva the UN Human Rights Council begins examining China’s human rights record. From abroad Chinese activists send information about abuses, hoping exposure might lead to some improvement. In the past Beijing hid behind the notion of “China's national realities” to reject criticism.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In Geneva (Switzerland) the United Nations Human Rights Council will begin its hearing s today (till Wednesday) on China’s human rights record. The world’s glare is turned on the People’s Republic and hope is alive that Beijing might make some concessions even though its government is not required to follow any UN “recommendations”.

This time many on the Council intend to ask questions on concrete issues like the persecution of human-rights defenders, domestic censorship, allegations of torture, last year's crackdown in Tibet, Beijing's iron grip on dissent during the Olympics, its one-child policy, re-education-through-labour camps, religious freedom and the detention of dissidents.

Zhang Jianping, an activist in Jiangsu, reports on his website about so-called “black jails,” which are “unofficial” detention centres holding dissidents without charges, trial or legal counsel. These “are clearly against the law. But local officials call them legal study classes, and that shows how they treat the law as just a tool for abusing rights,” Zhang Jianping wrote.

Zheng Dajing, from Hubei province, was held for over a year in one of these “law education classes”; in his case it was in a disused tobacco-buying station in his home county of Yunxi.

Although the premises sported a banner urging inmates to learn about China’s legal system, there were no textbooks or lectures; it was a real prison, Zheng said

He was held for travelling to Beijing to present a petition against local authorities; something which is done each year by tens of thousands of people.

“Local leaders want to protect themselves, so they try to hide us away, hide away our complaints,” Mr Zheng told the South China Morning Post.

By contrast, in its submission to the United Nations, China has said that it only detains people according to the law, but Xu Zhiyong, a Beijing lawyer, has collected information about so many cases of people held in prison for simply presenting petitions to the authorities.

At peak times, such as during major political meetings, the larger “underground” detention centres in Beijing alone hold many hundreds, where people wait to be shunted out of the capital, Mr Xu said.

China will likely deny any wrongdoing. In the past it has usually justified its failure to respect many rights by claiming that it implemented its laws in accordance with “China's national realities.”

Chinese activists are never the less hopeful that by exposing the mainland’s failures to the world some improvement might actually come about.

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