- On 4 February, 10 public security bureau officers and other unidentified men abducted prominent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng from his home in Shanxi province. His whereabouts remained unknown at the end of the year. Gao Zhisheng's wife, Geng He, and their children arrived in the USA in March, escaping from the Chinese authorities' ongoing harassment, which included preventing their daughter from attending school. The authorities continued to use vague laws governing the use of "state secrets" and "subversion of state power" to arrest, charge and imprison HRDs.
- In August, HRD Tan Zuoren was charged with "inciting subversion of state power". He had organized an independent investigation into the collapse of school buildings during the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake. He had planned to publish the report prior to his detention. At the end of the year, the verdict had not been announced.
- On 23 November, HRD Huang Qi was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for "illegally possessing state secrets". He had posted the demands of parents whose children had died in the Sichuan earthquake on his website.
Unfair trials remained endemic. Judicial decisions remained susceptible to political interference; defendants were often unable to hire a lawyer of their own choice and were denied access to their lawyer and family; families were often not given adequate notice of trial dates and were frequently refused entry to trials. Confessions extracted through torture continued to be admitted as evidence in court.
Millions of citizens tried to present their grievances directly to government authorities through the "letters and visits" system, otherwise known as the "petitioning system". Despite being legal, police often harassed petitioners, forcibly returned them to their home provinces and detained them in illegal "black jails" or psychiatric hospitals where they were at risk of ill-treatment.
Officials continued to intimidate the parents of children who died in collapsed school buildings during the Sichuan earthquake in May 2008 and prevented them from speaking to the media or pursuing independent investigations.
Detention without trial
The authorities frequently used administrative punishments, including Re-education through Labour (RTL), to detain people without trial. According to the government, 190,000 people were held in RTL facilities, down from half a million several years ago, although the real figures were likely to be much higher. Former RTL prisoners reported that Falun Gong constituted one of the largest groups of prisoners, and political activists, petitioners and others practising their religion outside permitted bounds were common targets. The authorities used a variety of illegal forms of detention, including "black jails", "legal education classes", "study classes" and mental health institutions to detain thousands of people.
Torture and other ill-treatment and deaths in custody
Torture continued to be commonplace in places of detention, sometimes leading to death. Torture methods used on detainees included beatings, often with an electric prod, hanging by the limbs, force feeding, injecting unknown drugs and sleep deprivation.
In March, the death of a 24-year-old in a detention centre in Yunnan province triggered a heated online debate about police and "jail bullies" torturing and otherwise ill-treating inmates. The online debate led to revelations of other cases of deaths in detention and prompted an investigation by the Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP). In July, the SPP published a report investigating 12 of the 15 deaths that occurred in detention during the first four months of the year. Of these, seven were found to have been beaten to death, three to have committed suicide, and two had died of accidental causes.