China continued to make extensive use of the death penalty, including for non-violent crimes. The death sentence continued to be imposed after unfair trials. Statistics on death sentences and executions remained classified as state secrets and, while executions numbered in the thousands, the government did not release actual figures.
Freedom of religion
People who practised their religion outside officially sanctioned boundaries continued to experience harassment, arbitrary detention, imprisonment and other serious restrictions on their freedom of religion. Catholic priests and bishops who refused to join the officially recognized Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association continued to be detained and held incommunicado for long periods or subjected to enforced disappearance.
- The whereabouts of 75-year-old Monsignor James Su Zhimin, an ordinary bishop from Baoding city, Hebei province, has remained unknown since his detention by police in 1996. Police beat and detained members of Christian house-churches, who practise outside officially recognized institutions, often demolishing their churches and sending them for RTL or to prison. The government campaign against the Falun Gong intensified, with sweeping detentions, unfair trials leading to long sentences, enforced disappearances and deaths in detention following torture and illtreatment.
- Chen Zhenping, a Falun Gong practitioner, was sentenced to eight years in prison during a secret trial in August 2008. She was charged with "using a heretical organization to subvert the law". Before, during and after her trial, Chen Zhenping was denied access to her lawyer. In September, prison guards told her family that she had been transferred to another location, but refused to say where. Chen Zhenping's lawyers have been unable to obtain any additional information concerning her whereabouts.
Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region
The authorities intensified already tight restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in the north-west of China following the eruption of unprecedented violence in Urumqi on 5 July. The government reported that 197 people were killed, the majority of whom were Han killed by Uighurs, and more than 1,600 were injured. Uighurs had posted online calls for a protest in reaction to government inaction over the beatings and deaths of Uighur migrant workers by Han workers in a toy factory in Guangdong province in June.
Eyewitness accounts of events on 5 July suggest that police and security forces cracked down on peaceful Uighur demonstrators to prevent thousands from marching through the city. According to these reports, police beat peaceful protesters with batons, used tear gas to disperse the crowds, and shot directly into crowds of peaceful demonstrators with live ammunition, most likely resulting in many more deaths.
Following the unrest, the authorities detained hundreds on suspicion of participation in the protests, including boys and elderly men, in door-to-door raids. Family and friends of several detainees denied that the detained individuals had any role in the violence or the protests. Dozens of detainees remained unaccounted for at the end of the year.
In August, the authorities announced that they were holding 718 people in connection with the unrest, and that 83 of these faced criminal charges including for murder, arson and robbery. On 9 November, the authorities announced the execution of nine individuals, after unfair trials. Based on their names, eight were Uighurs and one was Han Chinese. In December, an additional 13 individuals were sentenced to death and the authorities announced the arrest of an additional 94 people on suspicion of involvement in the July unrest.
In November, the authorities formally announced a "strike hard and punish" campaign in the region to last until the end of the year to "root out… criminals".