Head of government Wen Jiabao
Death penalty retentionist
Population 1,345.8 million
Life expectancy 72.9 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f) 25/35 per 1,000
Adult literacy 93.3 per cent
The authorities continued to tighten restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association due partly to sensitivities surrounding a series of landmark anniversaries, including the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic on 1 October. Human rights defenders were detained, prosecuted, held under house arrest and subjected to enforced disappearance. Pervasive internet and media controls remained. "Strike hard" campaigns resulted in sweeping arrests in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), particularly following violence and unrest in July. Independent human rights monitoring was prevented in Tibetan populated regions. The authorities continued to strictly control the parameters of religious practice, with Catholic and Protestant groups practising outside official bounds being harassed, detained and sometimes imprisoned. The severe and systematic 10-year campaign against the Falun Gong continued.
China was increasingly seen as a critical player in global affairs, including on such issues as Myanmar, North Korea, Iran, climate change and the global economic recovery. This contrasted with the government's increased insecurity at home stemming from a drop in the economic growth rate, rising unemployment and increased social tension associated with pervasive corruption, lack of access to adequate health care, housing and social security, and repression of civil society groups. As China's economy continued to grow, the gap between rich and poor widened.
Freedom of expression – journalists/internet
As the internet was increasingly used to disseminate news and conduct debates, the authorities tried to control its use by restricting news reporting and shutting down publications and internet sites, including ones that "slandered the country's political system", "distorted the history of the Party", "publicized Falun Gong and other evil cults", and "incited ethnic splittism". The government blocked access to content and recorded individuals' activities through new filtering software such as Blue Shield.
Following the publication of Charter 08 in December 2008, a document calling for political reform and greater protection of human rights, police questioned signatories and put them under surveillance for many months.
- Liu Xiaobo, a prominent intellectual and signatory originally detained in December 2008, was sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment on 25 December for "inciting subversion of state power". His lawyers were given only 20 minutes to present their case, in a trial that lasted less than three hours.
Human rights defenders
Human rights defenders (HRDs), including lawyers, journalists, environmental activists, and proponents of democratic reform, were arbitrarily detained, harassed, subjected to house arrest, held in incommunicado detention, and imprisoned. Authorities tortured and ill-treated many of those in detention. Family members of HRDs, including children, continued to be targeted and were subjected to long-term house arrest and other restraints and harassment.
Police and security forces detained, harassed and abused lawyers representing politically sensitive HRDs, Falun Gong practitioners, farmers with claims against local officials regarding land rights or corruption, and those who had been involved in advocating reform of lawyers' associations. Lawyers were at particular risk of losing their licence to practise.