China is sharply increasing its use of criminal prosecution as a tool for maintaining control.
This is a shift from ad hoc measures preferred in the past, the Financial Times reported Tuesday, citing Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a Hong Kong-based group that tracks activists in the mainland.
The group said criminal detentions for cases it follows nearly doubled to 442 in 2014 while administrative detentions rose to 358 from 224 a year earlier.
Individuals who might previously have been prosecuted under political charges such as subversion are now more likely to face time for “creating a disturbance” or “gathering a crowd to disrupt order of a public place”, it said.
The past few years have seen a crackdown on dissent in the midst of a political consolidation drive and anti-corruption purge, with long jail sentences meted out to well-known and moderate activists including lawyer Xu Zhiyong and Uighur intellectual Ilham Tohti.
This illustrates the conflict in China between “rule by law” — using laws to maintain power — and “rule of law”, where legal rights trump political power, the report said.
Dui Hua, a San Francisco-based group that follows prisoners’ rights, published similar findings in a report last week on trials in Xinjiang, an ethnically divided region on China’s Central Asian border.
It found that the number of cases of “endangering state security” were flat at about 300, while the number of criminal trials had soared by 40 per cent to 29,511.
Hundreds of people died in Xinjiang last year in knife and bomb attacks, clashes with police and other incidents, according to Chinese media reports and exile groups.
China last year formally abolished “re-education through labor”, a tool dating back to the early communist era that allowed police to imprison people in labour camps for up to three years without charge. according to CHRD.
Police are also less likely than in the past to use “soft detention” methods such as house arrest, it said.
One of those who has been detained for several months already without trial is Pu Zhiqiang, the Chinese lawyer who led the campaign against re-education through labour.
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