China's Anonymous Gulag

With rare candor, China's government recently released statistics on people arrested and prosecuted for endangering state security, the most serious political offence in the criminal code. China's top prosecutor, Han Zhubin, revealed that more than 3,400 people were arrested from 1998 to 2002 for such crimes as subversion, incitement to subversion, espionage, and trafficking in state secrets.

Arrests and prosecutions for endangering state security have risen sharply since September 11, 2001. In the two-year period that ended on December 31, 2002, more than 1,600 people were prosecuted for endangering state security, most after the terror attacks on the US. Many of those arrested and prosecuted hail from Xinjiang, an autonomous region in the northwest of the country that is home to a large and restive Muslim population.

China's government has used the war on terror to crack down on those seeking greater autonomy, including those who do so by peaceful means. This includes people like Rebiya Kadeer, a businesswoman imprisoned for sending newspaper articles to her husband in the US, Tohti Tunyaz, a Ph.D. student in Japan accused of publishing "sensitive documents," and Tursunjan Amat, a poet who recited a pro-independence poem at a public gathering in Urumqi.

Large as the number of such arrests and prosecutions is, the true extent of the government's suppression of independent thought and activity is even greater. Most members of the Falun Gong and other unauthorized religions are arrested and tried for "using an evil cult to sabotage implementation of the law"--a crime categorized as "disturbing the social order." Thousands of people are imprisoned for such "evil cult" activities.