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China congress opens amid protests

Hong Kong groups demand respect for human rights

China congress opens amid protests
Activists protest outside the Central Government Liaison Office reporter, Hong Kong

March 5, 2013

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Rights and pro-democracy activists marked the opening day of the annual session of China’s parliament, or National People’s Congress (NPC), on Tuesday by staging a protest outside the Central Government Liaison Office in Hong Kong.

They demanded China release all human rights defenders, imprisoned writers, prisoners of conscience and religious believers, as well as ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and implement its own constitution.

According to China’s constitution, citizens enjoy – among other things – freedom of speech and religion, and the right to assemble and demonstrate.

“Ratification by the NPC and implementation of international human rights standards, which include protection of religious freedom, have been delayed for 15 years since China signed the covenant in 1998,” Or Yan-yan, project officer of the Hong Kong diocese’s Justice and Peace Commission, told

She also called for the release of Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, who has been under house arrest in Sheshan Seminary in Shanghai for nine months, and some “underground” clergy in northern Hebei province who have been missing for several years.

The protesters reiterated their demands in an open letter to the NPC, which they stuck on the door of the liaison office after officials refused to come out and accept it.

Nearly 3,000 deputies of the congress are attending the plenary meeting in Beijing, which lasts from March 5-17. Outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao opened the congress by delivering the government work report.

On religion, he claimed that in the past five years China has fully implemented its policy of freedom of religious belief, and made progress in the legalization and standardization of managing religious affairs.

The congress will also see the final stage of the country’s leadership transition with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen finishing their second five-year terms.

Or said she did not expect Hu’s successor, Xi Jinping, would bring any change despite calls to implement provisions in the constitution and his anti-corruption stance since he became the head of Chinese Communist Party last November.

“During the terms of Hu and Wen, suppression of political dissidents and human rights defenders was the most severe,” since the country adopted the open-door policy three decades ago, Or said.

She said she felt particularly disappointed with Wen, as he failed to achieve his reformist pledges and meet public expectations, despite being dubbed the “people’s premier.” 

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