China's rights record remains poor: Human Rights Watch

London, Feb 1 (IANS) China's human rights record remained poor in 2012, with minimal significant progress on political, civil, socio-economic or cultural rights, Human Rights Watch said Friday.

In its World Report 2013, it said the new leadership of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang was yet to signal that it was ready to respond to growing demands for greater adherence to the rule of law, accountability and openness.

"China is the only country holding a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo, in prison today - and unfortunately that's a fair reflection of the state of freedom in the country," said Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch.

"When challenged by its citizens, repression or tactical retreat rather than systemic reform remains the Chinese government's default response."

Against a background of mounting social tensions, long-awaited legal reforms to alleviate some of the most acute problems - including official malfeasance, abuses of power, abusive land and property confiscations, impunity for environmental pollution, and miscarriage of justice - did not materialize.

Chinese citizens' fundamental right to political participation was denied in the selection of their new top leaders, the seven members of the new Standing Committee of the politburo led by Xi Jinping, it said.

Despite these limits, citizens were increasingly vocal, especially online, in some cases forcing the government to make concessions, or even to take their demands into account.

Both the Criminal Procedure Law, adopted in March, and the Mental Health Law, adopted in October, were improved in key aspects as a result of intensive civil society efforts.

Activists, government critics and ordinary citizens were subjected to a host of repressive measures, including police monitoring and harassment; baseless house arrest of individuals; arbitrary detentions; unwarranted and forcible commitment to psychiatric facilities; or imprisonment on politicized criminal charges for activities protected by human rights.

China still executes more prisoners than the rest of the world combined, the report said. The estimates range from 5,000 to 8,000 per year.

The household registration system remained in place, denying millions of migrant rural workers living in cities the same socio-economic rights and benefits as urbanites.

China further increased Internet censorship in December by imposing real name registration and blocking software used to circumvent the country's "Great Firewall".

Torture and forced confessions remained endemic in the criminal justice system.

Tensions in ethnic minority areas also showed no signs of abatement. The crackdown in Tibetan areas, initiated in response to the 2008 popular protests, took a turn for the worst in 2012.

Eighty-two Tibetans set themselves on fire in protest at Chinese policies during the year, including 27 in November.

Authorities reacted by introducing even more hard-line measures such as collective punishment for relatives and neighbours of self-immolators.

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