The State Department said today in its annual report on human rights worldwide that China took a "somewhat more tolerant" attitude toward dissent last year but that serious rights problems remain.
"The government exhibited some limited tolerance of public expressions of opposition to government policies and calls for political reform," the report said.
It said that during the year, a number of dissidents, academics and former officials issued public statements, letters or petitions challenging the government's policies and calling for reform.
A year ago, the report was more critical of China, asserting that "all public dissent against the party and the government was effectively silenced." There is no such conclusion in this year's report.
Nonetheless, it found that China during 1997, "continued to commit widespread and well-documented human rights abuses, in violation of internationally accepted norms stemming from the authorities' very limited tolerance of public dissent."
The report, mandated by Congress, covers all the world's countries and dependent territories and has been issued annually for two decades.
"Strong authoritarian governments in many parts of the world kept themselves in power through systematic abuse of the human rights of their citizens," the report said. "The dismal scenario is all too familiar."
It found pervasive rights abuses in a number of countries, including Burma, Cuba, Nigeria, Algeria, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The report saw hopeful signs in Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Bosnia, Guatemala, and Egypt.
The report concluded there were "serious human rights abuses" but some improvements in territories controlled by Israel as well as those subject to Palestinian jurisdiction.
It cited the suicide bombings by Palestinian militants, one of which, in Jerusalem, left 16 dead and 178 wounded. In the aftermath of these bombings, Israeli authorities arrested hundreds of Palestinians in an effort to obtain information. "Israeli security forces abused, and in some cases tortured, Palestinians suspected of security offenses," the report said.
In Turkey, a close NATO ally, widespread human rights violations continued, and Russia "took a big step backward" with passage of a law restricting freedom of religion, the report said.
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