Former Washington governor Gary Locke, now the U.S. Ambassador to China, upset the Beijing bureaucracy in January when he declared that human rights in his ancestral home seems to be in a "down period" and "getting worse." China's Foreign Ministry expressed shock and horror. Yet, as if any new proof were needed, now we have the sentencing brief of Justin Solondz.
There he was arrested for making hash out of wild marijuana plants. (Yes, while growers here nurture their pot plants with lights, chemicals and tender loving care, the stuff apparently grows elsewhere like a, well, weed.) The brief continues:
He faced Chinese justice, including a trial where his testimony was compelled and a three-year prison sentence under harsh conditions that included being chained naked in a glass-enclosed cell. For most of his confinement he was fed as long he met his daily quota of shelled peas.
So we're not just talking about the normal kind of misery often facing prisoners in underdeveloped countries: lack of heat, abysmal food , exposure to lice. Being chained naked and kept under glass, that sounds like torture.
That shouldn't be a surprise to anybody who has been reading human rights reports on the country. "Torture and other ill-treatment remained endemic in places of detention," reads a 2011 Amnesty International report on China. An Amnesty report from a few years earlier cited the treatment of imprisoned human rights activist Yan Chunlin, who was "chained to the four corners of an iron bed" and "forced to eat, drink and defecate in that position."
It might come as a surprise that the Chinese treated a more mundane criminal like Solondz in a similar fashion. But then, a 2008 U.S. State Department report on China noted that "conditions in penal institutions for both political prisoners and common criminals generally were harsh and degrading."
So Locke has nothing to apologize for when he talks about China's recent human rights record. Indeed Human Rights Watch has been pushing U.S. officials, who only last month hosted Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, to be even tougher.