New press rule could help China improve civil rights protection
The entry will say: “The governments at all levels should facilitate the reporting of journalists who hold this card and provide necessary assistance.”
“Without a proper reason, government officials must not refuse to be interviewed,” said Zhu Weifeng, a senior official with the General Administration of Press and Publication.
Many considered this a positive signal that the authorities welcomed supervision from the media.
The new press card statement followed a regulation on the disclosure of government information, effective last May, which was the first government rule safeguarding citizens’ right to be informed.
“Media and public supervision are among the arrangements the country is making to control the power of the state and protect civil rights,” said Li Yunlong, a human rights expert at the Institute for International Strategies of the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
“How to prevent state power from infringing on civil rights is a very important issue in human rights protection,” Li said.
This week, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva conducted its first review of China’s human rights record, and it acknowledged the country’s efforts in human rights protection.
The country took a long and winding road to acceptance of the concept of “civil rights” but was headed in the right direction, Li said. “I have seen a trend toward increasing supervision of the authorities and more restrictions on their power.”
Mo Jihong, a research fellow with the Law Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, saw the same trend in legislation. “The changes in the Constitution were obvious,” said Mo.
China’s first three Constitutions, issued respectively in 1954,in 1975 and 1978, all had a chapter on the fundamental rights and duties of citizens. But none of those versions defined “citizen,” which affected the implementation of these items, he said.
The current Constitution, adopted in 1982, closed this loophole and put the chapter on citizens’ rights before that of the structure of the state, he said.
“It showed the country acknowledged that the state derived its legitimacy through protecting citizens’ rights, rather than by giving rights to citizens.”
In 2004, an amendment to the Constitution added an article stating that the state respects and preserves human rights.
“Through the amendments, the Constitution gave more responsibility to state organs to protect civil rights,” Mo said.
The country has also adopted laws to restrict the exercise of state power. In 1990, the law on litigation against the administration provided the first way for the common people to sue government departments.
Further, the law on legislation, adopted in 2000, included an article stating that only laws can limit personal freedom. This had the effect of barring any authority, except the legislature, from issuing regulations or rules to limit personal freedom.
“But the implementation of laws remained a problem,” Mo said. “The authorities who enforce the laws should be carefully watched.”
Li noted that China’s unique culture played a role. Traditionally, Chinese seldom talk about “rights” but instead stress the concept of people’s obedience to the society.
“Civil right is a concept borrowed from the West. That’s why it will take time to make everyone aware of it, especially those holding power,” he said.
“But we should not give up because we don’t have such a tradition,” he said. “China does not need to make itself a Western nation but can explore its own way based on its own culture and reality,” he said.
Last year, in the wake of an increasing number of protests nationwide, the government launched a campaign requiring officials to talk with citizens and consider their requests regularly. The move proved to be an effective way to ease public anger and reduce misunderstanding.
A trial program to invite independent inspectors to detention houses in northeast Jilin Province also received acclaim as an innovation in this field.
The two-year program ended late last year. The 20 independent inspectors, who were teachers, doctors, businessmen and community workers, examined conditions in these detention houses and examined their records so as to ensure that custody procedures were in line with the law and detainees were not treated inhumanely.
“The concept of ‘putting people first’ raised by the present CPC leadership can be regarded as an effort to respect and protect civil rights,” Li said.
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