U.S. presses China on "deteriorating" rights conditions

WASHINGTON Wed Jul 25, 2012 2:54pm EDT

A man walks out of the front entrance to the Chaoyang Hospital, where blind dissident Chen Guangcheng was reported to be staying, in Beijing May 18, 2012. REUTERS/David Gray

A man walks out of the front entrance to the Chaoyang Hospital, where blind dissident Chen Guangcheng was reported to be staying, in Beijing May 18, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/David Gray

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is pressing China to address its "deteriorating" rights record, citing cases including the nephew of blind dissident Chen Guangcheng who activists say has been targeted following his famous uncle's departure for New York this year, the State Department said on Wednesday.

Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, briefing reporters after the annual U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue in Washington, said the United States saw Beijing moving in the wrong direction on human rights.

"The overall human rights situation in China continues to deteriorate," Posner said.

"Our message to the Chinese government is you've made progress on the economic front, this is the moment to open up the space to allow people to dissent."

The annual U.S.-China human rights meeting has become a fixture on the diplomatic calendar, but has yielded few concrete results.

This year the United States focused on charges that Beijing is restricting freedom of expression and Internet freedom, curbing the rights of religious and ethnic minorities and failing to implement internationally recognized labor rights, Posner said.

"Regular news from China makes clear that the subjects of our discussion are matters of great concern to many millions of ordinary Chinese citizens whose voices are increasingly being heard around the world," he said.

The Chinese raised concerns about aspects of the U.S. human rights record "for example, of discrimination, prison conditions and the like, which we discussed openly," Posner said.

"We have human rights issues in the United States, but we also have a very strong system to respond to them."

Posner said the U.S. side brought up several dozen individual cases including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and activists Chen Wei and Chen Xi -- all jailed on political charges -- and lawyers Gao Zhisheng and Ni Yulan, who have been jailed for defending rights cases.

GOING AFTER THE FAMILY

The United States also raised the case of Chen Kegui, whose uncle Chen Guangcheng escaped from house arrest in April and briefly sought refuge in the U.S. embassy before Beijing allowed him to depart for the United States, he said.

Chen Kegui was charged with "intentional homicide" after he fought off local officials who burst into his home on April 27, the day after they discovered his uncle had escaped house arrest. Chen Guangcheng says he fears authorities plan a revenge show trial.

"A number of his lawyers who the family have reached out to have tried to meet with him, tried to represent him actively, and have been denied access," Posner said. "We raised those concerns openly ... we'll continue to raise those concerns."

He said the U.S.-China dialogue this week also included reports of self-immolations by ethnic Tibetans and forced abortions under China's "one-child" policy.

While there are few signs of improvement in China's human rights practices, he said, it is still important for the United States to engage with Beijing and support those within China who are fighting for more protection.

"We take our lead from those within China who are advocating for human rights and who were on the receiving end of improper actions," Posner said. "We're amplifying their voices."

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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