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China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau)

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government severely restricted this right. The law stipulates that such activities may not challenge “party leadership” or infringe upon the “interests of the state.” Protests against the political system or national leaders were prohibited. Authorities denied permits and quickly suppressed demonstrations involving expression of dissenting political views.

The law protects an individual’s ability to petition the government, but persons petitioning the government faced restrictions on their rights to assemble and raise grievances (see section 1.d.).

While the central government reiterated prohibitions against blocking or restricting “normal petitioning” and against unlawfully detaining petitioners, official retaliation against petitioners continued. This was partly due to central government regulations that took effect in 2015 requiring local governments to resolve complaints within 60 days and stipulating that central authorities will no longer accept petitions already handled by local or provincial governments. The regulations encourage all litigation-related petitions to be handled at the local level through local or provincial courts, reinforcing a system of incentives for local officials to prevent petitioners from raising complaints to higher levels. It also resulted in local officials sending security personnel to Beijing and forcibly returning petitioners to their home provinces to prevent them from filing complaints against local officials with the central government. Such detentions often went unrecorded and often resulted in brief periods of incarceration in extralegal “black jails.”

Petitioners faced harassment, illegal detention, and even more severe forms of punishment when attempting to travel to Beijing to present their grievances.

Citizens throughout the country continued to gather publicly to protest evictions, forced relocations, and inadequate compensation, often resulting in conflict with authorities or other charges.

Although peaceful protests are legal, public security officials rarely granted permits to demonstrate. Despite restrictions, many demonstrations occurred, but those motivated by broad political or social grievances were broken up quickly, sometimes with excessive force.

In June authorities arrested Wukan’s popularly elected village mayor, Lin Zuluan, on corruption charges. On September 8, Lin was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison and fined 200,000 yuan ($29,000). Large numbers of villagers took to the streets to protest what they considered bogus charges brought against Lin because of his resistance to land confiscation by higher-level authorities. Authorities deployed large numbers of riot police and used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protest. Public security forces reportedly beat villagers at random, forcibly entered private homes to detain individuals suspected of participating in the protests, and prevented anyone from entering or leaving the village. The authorities also reportedly detained, interrogated, and assaulted foreign journalists, offering rewards for information leading to their detention. At year’s end dozens of villagers remained in detention, and at least 13 individuals suspected of leading the protest had been charged with crimes.

In July, thousands of citizens took to the streets in Lubu to protest plans for a new incinerator plant. Local citizens were concerned the plant would contaminate drinking water. The BBC reported that 21 protest leaders were detained, and other media reports indicated that the protests turned violent.

Rights lawyers and activists who advocated for nonviolent civil disobedience were detained, arrested, and in some cases sentenced to prison terms. In January a Guangzhou court convicted Tang Jingling, Yuan Xinting, and Wang Qingying of “inciting subversion of state power,” citing their promotion of civil disobedience and the peaceful transition to democratic rule as evidence. Media outlets reported the men were also signatories of the Charter 08 manifesto advocating political reform.

In April human rights activist Su Changlan stood trial at Foshan Intermediate Court on charges of “incitement to subvert state power” for activities in support of the 2014 Hong Kong prodemocracy movement. Five activists who gathered outside the court in support of Su were detained briefly. Authorities detained Su in 2014 and had held her for more than two years without sentencing her. She was refused a request for medical parole in September. Her husband reported being under police surveillance.

Concerts, sports events, exercise classes, or other meetings of more than 200 persons require approval from public security authorities. Large numbers of public gatherings in Beijing and elsewhere were not revived during the year after being canceled at the last minute or denied government permits in 2015, ostensibly under the guise of ensuring public safety.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. CCP policy and government regulations require that all professional, social, and economic organizations officially register with and receive approval from the government. These regulations prevented the formation of autonomous political, human rights, religious, spiritual, labor, and other organizations that the government believed might challenge its authority in any area.

The government maintained tight controls over civil society organizations and in some cases detained or harassed NGO workers.

In January authorities detained a Swedish NGO worker, Peter Dahlin, on charges of endangering state security. He had worked for an organization that trained and supported activists and lawyers seeking to “promote the development of the rule of law.” After being paraded on state television in what his friends and colleagues characterized as a forced confession, which included an apology for “hurting the Chinese government and the Chinese people,” authorities deported Dahlin from the country.

On April 15, police detained 15 human rights activists while they ate dinner in a restaurant in Guangzhou. The activists had planned to gather at the Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court the next day to show support for four prominent activists who faced charges of subversion for expressing their support for Hong Kong’s 2014 prodemocracy protest movement.

The regulatory system for NGOs was highly restrictive, but specific requirements varied depending on whether an organization was foreign or domestic. Domestic NGOs were governed by the Charity Law, which went into effect in September, and a host of related regulations. Domestic NGOs could register as one of three categories: a social group, a social organization, or a foundation. All domestic NGOs were required to register under the Ministry of Civil Affairs and find an officially sanctioned sponsor to serve as their “professional supervisory unit.” Finding a sponsor was often challenging, since the sponsor could be held civilly or criminally responsible for the NGO’s activities. All organizations were also required to report their sources of funding, including foreign funding. Domestic NGOs continued to adjust to this new regulatory framework.

On August 22, the CCP Central Committee issued a directive mandating the establishment of CCP cells within all domestic NGOs by 2020. According to authorities, these CCP organizations operating inside domestic NGOs would “strengthen guidance” of NGOs in areas such as “decision making for important projects, important professional activities, major expenditures and funds, acceptance of large donations, and activities involving foreigners.” The directive also mandates that authorities conduct annual “spot checks” to ensure compliance on “ideological political work, party building, financial and personnel management, study sessions, foreign exchange, acceptance of foreign donations and assistance, and conducting activities according to their charter.” An editorial in the CCP’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, explained how the CCP intends to transform social organizations into CCP affiliates: “Social organizations are important vehicles for the party to connect with and serve the masses; strengthening the party’s leadership is the basic guarantee of accelerating the healthy and orderly development of social organizations. We must fully bring into play the combat fortress function of party cells within social organizations.”

In April the NPC Standing Committee passed the Law on the Management of Foreign NGOs’ Activities within Mainland China (Foreign NGO Management Law), which was scheduled to go into effect in January 2017. The law requires foreign NGOs to register with the Ministry of Public Security and to find a state-sanctioned sponsor for their operations. NGOs that fail to comply face possible civil or criminal penalties. The law provides no appeal process for NGOs denied registration, and it stipulates that NGOs found to have violated certain provisions could be placed on a “blacklist” and barred from operating in the country.

Although the law had not yet gone into effect, some international NGOs reported that it became more difficult to work with local partners, including universities, government agencies, and other domestic NGOs, as the law codified the CCP’s perception that foreign NGOs were a “national security” threat. Finding an official sponsor was also difficult for foreign NGOs, as sponsors could be held responsible for the NGO’s conduct and had to undertake burdensome reporting requirements. Implementation guidelines and a list of permissible government sponsors were released less than a month before implementation, leaving NGOs uncertain how to comply with the law. Even after a list of sponsors was published, NGOs reported that most government agencies had no unit responsible for sponsoring foreign NGOs. The vague definition of an NGO, as well as of what activities constituted “political” and therefore illegal activities, also left many business organizations and alumni associations uncertain whether they fell under the purview of the law. The lack of clear communication from the government, coupled with harassment by security authorities, caused some foreign NGOs to suspend or cease operations in the country, even before the law took effect.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, by June there were more than 670,000 legally registered social organizations, public institutions, and foundations. According to the Ministry of Public Security, in August there were more than 7,000 foreign NGOs. Many experts believed the actual number of domestic NGOs to be much higher. Domestic NGOs reported that foreign funding dropped during the year, as many domestic NGOs sought to avoid such funding for fear of being labeled as “subversive” in the face of growing restrictions imposed by new laws. NGOs existed under a variety of formal and informal guises, including national mass organizations created and funded by the CCP that are organizationally prohibited from exercising any independence, known as government-operated NGOs or GONGOs.

For donations to a domestic organization from a foreign NGO, the Foreign NGO Management Law requires foreign NGOs to maintain a representative office in the country in order to send funds or to use the bank account of a domestic NGO when conducting temporary activities. Foreign NGOs are prohibited from using any other method to send and receive funds under the law, and such funding must be reported to the Ministry of Public Security. Foreign NGOs are prohibited from fundraising and “for-profit activities” under the law.

Although all registered organizations came under some degree of government control, some NGOs, primarily service-oriented GONGOs, were able to operate with less day-to-day scrutiny. Authorities supported the growth of some NGOs that focused on social problems, such as poverty alleviation and disaster relief. Law and regulations explicitly prohibited organizations from conducting political or religious activities, and organizations that refused to comply faced criminal penalties.

Authorities continued to restrict and evict local NGOs that received foreign funding and international NGOs that provided assistance to Tibetan communities in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Almost all were forced to curtail their activities altogether due to travel restrictions, official intimidation of staff members, and the failure of local partners to renew project agreements.

No laws or regulations specifically governed the formation of political parties. The Chinese Democracy Party (CDP) remained banned, and the government continued to monitor, detain, and imprison current and former CDP members. Activists Chen Shuqing and Lu Gengsong, who had been active with the banned CDP, were sentenced to more than 10 years’ imprisonment on charges of “subversion of state power” in June.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The government sought to maintain control over civil society groups, halt the emergence of independent NGOs, and hinder the activities of civil society and rights’ activist groups. The government harassed independent domestic NGOs and did not permit them to openly monitor or comment on human rights conditions. The government made statements expressing suspicion of independent organizations and closely scrutinized NGOs with financial and other links overseas. The government took significant steps during the year to bring all domestic NGOs under its direct regulatory control, thereby curtailing the space for independent NGOs to exist. Most large NGOs were quasi-governmental, and government agencies had to sponsor all official NGOs.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In August the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, visited the country. Alston said that the government restricted his activities and that security agents followed him throughout his visit. Many of his meeting requests were declined, and although he submitted a list of academics he wanted to meet prior to his visit, he was told that many of them had been advised they should be on vacation during his visit. Security agents detained one person en route to a meeting with Alston. Alston’s request to visit was first made in 2005, according to the UN Office of the Human Rights Commissioner. A dozen other requests for visits to the country by UN experts remained outstanding.

The government remained reluctant to accept criticism of its human rights record by other nations or international organizations. It criticized reports by international human rights monitoring groups, claiming that such reports were inaccurate and interfered in the country’s internal affairs.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government maintained that each country’s economic, social, cultural, and historical conditions determined its approach to human rights. The government claimed that its treatment of suspects, considered to be victims of human rights abuses by the international community, was in accordance with national law. The government did not have a human rights ombudsman or commission.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Hong Kong

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The police routinely issued the required “letter of no objection” for public meetings and demonstrations–including those critical of the SAR and central governments–and the overwhelming majority of protests occurred without serious incident. On June 4, tens of thousands of persons peacefully gathered without incident in Victoria Park to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The annual vigil and a smaller annual event in Macau were reportedly the only sanctioned events in China to commemorate the Tiananmen Square anniversary.

Figures vary for participation in the annual July 1 prodemocracy demonstration, held on the anniversary of the 1997 transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong to the PRC. Police estimated 19,300 protesters; an independent polling organization estimated 29,000, and organizers claimed 110,000. Participants voiced concern over the Mighty Current booksellers’ detentions, called for CE Leung to resign, supported a relaunch of Hong Kong’s electoral reform process aimed at extending universal suffrage for all residents to vote in elections for the Chief Executive, encouraged abolition of LegCo’s Functional Constituencies in favor of directly electing all legislators; and demanded democratic amendments to the Basic Law. Police deployed hundreds of officers, and did not interfere with the legally permitted rally.

Government statistics indicated police arrested 125 persons in connection with public order events in the first half of last year; statistics were not yet available for 2016.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected it.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views. Prominent human rights activists critical of the central government also operated freely and maintained permanent resident status in the SAR.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an Office of the Ombudsman and an Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). The government recruits commissioners to represent both offices through a professional search committee, which solicits applications and vets candidates. Commissioners were independent in their operations. Both organizations operated without interference from the government and published critical findings in their areas of responsibility. In January the EOC, under the supervision of Commissioner Dr. York Chow, published a list of 77 recommendations for how to update the SAR’s existing antidiscrimination legislation to better protect Hong Kong’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals, improve access to public and commercial buildings for persons with disabilities, and other issues within the EOC’s responsibility. In March, Lingnan University professor Alfred Chan replaced Chow as EOC Commissioner; Chan continues to serve the EOC as an advocate for LGBTI rights, the ethnic minority community, and persons with disabilities.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Macau

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The law requires prior notification, but not approval, of demonstrations involving public roads, public places, or places open to the public. In cases where authorities tried to restrict access to public venues for demonstrations or other public events, the courts generally ruled in favor of the applicants. Police may redirect demonstration marching routes, but organizers have the right to challenge such decisions in court.

Activists alleged authorities were making a concerted effort to use both intimidation and criminal proceedings against participants in peaceful demonstrations to discourage their involvement. Activists reported police routinely attempted to intimidate demonstrators by ostentatiously taking videos of them and advising bystanders not to participate in protests. Activists also stated authorities gave orders to demonstrators verbally rather than through written communication, which made it difficult to challenge their decisions in court. Activists reported the use of internal circulars and “rumors” threatening civil servants not to join politically sensitive events and demonstrations.

Further, activists alleged the Macau High Court had begun to adjudicate against defendants in freedom of assembly cases. In March, Macau police shrank the area requested by an antigovernment political organization to host an assembly in the Senado Square. The court upheld the restriction and dismissed the applicant’s citation of law that “any restriction on the exercise of the right of peaceful assembly must conform to the strict tests of necessity and proportionality.” In June approximately 400 persons participated in a vigil at Senado Square to mark the 27th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. No authorization is required to form an association, and the only restrictions on forming an organization are that it not promote racial discrimination, violence, crime, or disruption of public order, or be military or paramilitary in nature. The SAR registered 570 new organizations from July 2015 to June.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Domestic and international groups monitoring human rights generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Tibet

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Even in areas officially designated as “autonomous,” Tibetans generally lacked the right to organize and play a meaningful role in the protection of their cultural heritage and unique natural environment. Tibetans often faced intimidation and arrest if they protested against policies or practices they found objectionable. A 2015 RFA report stated that authorities in Rebkong County in the Tibetan Region of Amdo, now administered under Qinghai Province, circulated a list of unlawful activities. The list included “illegal associations formed in the name of the Tibetan language, the environment, and education.” Sources in the area reported that this list remained in force and no new associations have been formed since the list was published.

In February 2015 public security officials in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, detained a group of Tibetans who were peacefully protesting the government’s seizure of land in Zoige County in the Tibetan Region of Amdo, now administered by Sichuan, outside a meeting of the Sichuan Provincial People’s Congress. In April four of these Tibetans were sentenced to prison terms of two to three years.

On June 23, a protest by Tibetans on Qinghai Lake over the demolition of unregistered restaurants and guest houses was violently dispersed by security forces, leading to the arrest of five demonstrators and the injury of at least eight others. Authorities decreed that these small businesses were illegal and needed to be torn down and that residents should leave the area, which was a popular tourist location. Local Tibetans likened it to a “land grab” meant to benefit ethnic Chinese at their expense.

At the Sixth Tibet Work Forum in August 2015, the CCP ordered a large-scale campaign to expel students and demolish living quarters at Larung Gar, the world’s largest center for the study of Tibetan Buddhism. The expulsion and demolition campaign commenced in July. According to a local CCP directive, authorities must reduce the resident population to no more than 5,000 by September 2017. Before the campaign began, the population at Larung Gar was estimated to range between 10,000 and 30,000. In July authorities banned foreign tourists from visiting the area.

In August authorities in the Kardze TAP in the Tibetan Region of Kham reportedly prevented Tibetans from holding a religious gathering and traditional horse race festival after Dargye Monastery, the organizer of the events, and local residents refused a government order to fly the PRC national flag at the two events, at the monastery, and from residents’ homes.

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