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By Lisa Navarrette, ICC Fellow

Part II of this series discussed how China uses surveillance, controls information, and punishes those who report the truth. This article will discuss China’s persecution, human rights abuses, and punishment.

The U.S. government designated the atrocities against the Uyghurs as genocide. Undeterred by such international scrutiny, China continues its persecution of religious persons. The 2021 “Measures on the Management of Religious Clergy” instituted new measures for tighter control and surveillance of clergy. It bans any religious activity from independent religious clergy.

Articles VI and XI prohibit clergy from “engaging in illegal religious activity, religious extremism, and foreign infiltration using religion.” It also requires a political test to ensure the clergies’ loyalty to the Chinese Community Party. Experts agree that these new measures are another legal route for the government to persecute religious citizens freely and openly under the guise of national security. [i]

China has increased its efforts to silence, and in some cases annihilate, ethnic and religious minorities such as the Uyghurs, Tibetan Buddhists, and Christians. Christians specifically have come under extreme persecution after a 2018 law restricting religious freedom. According to Open Doors International, there has been an increase in surveillance and restriction including demolition of churches, abduction, arrest, and detainment. [ii] Anyone can be charged at any time, and in China, it is nearly impossible to defend oneself once charged. Many charges are vague such as “stirring up trouble” or “being a threat to state security.”

The United Nations estimates that 1-2 million prisoners are held in prisons and re-education camps in China.[iii] Political prisoners are remanded to a facility whose goal is reform through labor. These facilities house 3,000-5,000 inmates. Inmates are part of a squadron of ten. They go through their entire day together. Through this collectivism, they control, monitor, and report on each other. According to the government, they can receive visitors monthly and write letters. The nature of the work will depend on the geographic location of the prison. For instance, the United States recently banned the import of cotton produced by Uyghur prisoners in the Xinjiang province.[iv]

The prison diet has low nutritional value, and rations are tied to work production. Inmates are required each evening to study communist ideals. A trained political instructor monitors the inmates and determines if they are eligible for early release. Reformation is considered complete when the inmate acknowledges their guilt for the offense, criticizes their own antisocial behavior, and conforms to the facility’s rules. An inmate has the opportunity for parole after serving half of their sentence, or at least 10 years of a life sentence. This depiction of prison life was provided through published Chinese documents.[v]

But as we know, China controls all information. Personal accounts of prison life have surfaced from former prisoners. They recount horrors such as forced medical tests, sleep deprivation, barbaric torture, humiliation, beatings, being forced to eat their own feces, marching, standing, and sitting for long periods on tiny stools. [vi] The China Tribunal concluded that China is harvesting organs for sale from prisoners. The organs are sold on the black market and generate over $1 billion for the Chinese government annually.[vii]

China allegedly carries out more executions than anywhere in the world.[viii] Though statistics are not published, it is estimated that between 2009 and 2015, at least 19 foreign nationals were executed in China for drug charges alone.[ix] American citizens are not exempt from receiving the death penalty. An American was sentenced to death over alleged drug trafficking, even though no evidence was found on his person or belongings.[x]

The presumption of guilt, instead of the presumption of innocence in democratic societies, makes it difficult for one to defend oneself from accusation. Simply being a suspect can have severe consequences for both suspects and their families. Those who defy norms or question the government are held as examples of civil disobedience to the socialist order. The government regularly uses death sentence parades and public executions to ensure social conformity.[xi] Codifying human rights may have little effect in a society where crime is viewed as a violation of collective rights and a rebellion against the socialist order and government.

China’s detention and investigation policies allow great discretion by local police, which can lead to corruption. China is an example where forced confessions and false imprisonment occur because of their commitment to keeping the communist party in power. Anyone who speaks out against the party will receive swift sanctions. China has perfected an authoritarian regime on its home front and wishes to expand its communist ideals to other parts of the world. China uses its infrastructure financing to gain influence and control over second and third-world countries. Because of this, the world is becoming more authoritarian.


[i] United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. (2022). China 2022 International Religious Freedom Report. United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

[ii] Open Doors International. (2023). China.

[iii] United Nations Human Rights. (2022, September 7). Xinjiang report: China must address grave human rights violations and the world must not turn a blind eye, say UN experts. OHCHR.

[iv]Associated Press. (2021, January 14). U.S. to block cotton from Chinese region over Uighur crackdown. NBC News.

[v] Terrill, R. J. (2016). World criminal justice systems: a comparative survey. New York, London Routledge.

[vi] Molloy, S. (2019, July 15). Barbaric torture, brainwashing and forced organ removals: Inside China’s brutal death camps. AU.

[vii] China Tribunal. (2020, March). China Tribunal: Final judgement detailed, the hearings records, submissions etc. China Tribunal.

[viii] Terrill, R. J. (2016). World criminal justice systems: a comparative survey. New York, London Routledge.

[ix] Liang, B. (2019). Legal Treatment of Foreign Drug Offenders Who Face Capital Punishment in China. East Asian Policy (Singapore), 11(3), 107–119.

[x] ABC News. (2019, May 1). Houston man sentenced to death in China over drug trafficking charges. ABC News.

[xi] Terrill, R. J. (2016). World criminal justice systems: a comparative survey. New York, London Routledge.