U.S. Brands China Human Rights Abuser;Latest List Also Cites Cases in Russia, Iraq

The United States branded China an authoritarian human rights abuser Tuesday, citing alleged torture, state control of basic aspects of daily life, tight controls on religion and harassment of foreign charities.

China, host of the summer Olympics, has rampant and chronic human rights problems despite rapid economic growth that has transformed large parts of Chinese society, the State Department said in its annual accounting of human rights practices around the world.

The world's most populous nation, China is an increasingly important U.S. trade partner and a chief competitor with the United States for energy and shrinking natural resources. It is the object of broad U.S. economic and diplomatic outreach, with mixed results.

The United States, other nations and outside advocacy groups have tried to use the world media attention and prestige associated with the Olympics to leverage internal change and diplomatic cooperation from China, but the games are barely mentioned in the human rights report.

"The government tightened restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, particularly in anticipation of and during sensitive events, including increased efforts to control and censor the Internet," the report said.

Forced relocations went up last year, the report said. It noted claims that people were forced from their homes to make way for Olympic projects in Beijing.

President Bush plans to attend the Olympics this year. Visiting U.S. lawmakers would get help from the U.S. Embassy for a "safe, memorable and enjoyable experience," the U.S. ambassador in Beijing wrote in a letter last year.

The report detailed the lengths some Chinese officials have taken to enforce their country's well-known "one child" policy, and gave a chilling account of alleged torture in China, including the use of electric shocks, beatings, shackles, and other forms of abuse. It includes an account of a prisoner strapped to a "tiger bench," a device that forces the legs to bend sometimes until they break.

The Chinese Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But China annually decries U.S. criticism of its rights record. It has denounced the United States for rampant violence and widespread discrimination against minorities.

The study, published each year since 1977, offers a comprehensive analysis of all countries in the world except the United States. There are no automatic penalties to nations that get poor marks.

The report noted further backsliding in President Vladimir Putin's Russia last year, and ticks off a string of undemocratic moves taken by close U.S. ally President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.

Political adversaries Cuba, Iran, Zimbabwe and Syria were all listed as human rights abusers. Sudan's record was called "horrific."

A "pervasive climate of violence" characterized Iraq in the fifth year after the U.S.-led invasion, the State Department report said. Specific problems included official corruption, disappearances, torture, anemic legal protections, restrictions on religious freedom and "arbitrary deprivation of life."

"Sectarian, ethnic and extremist violence, coupled with weak government performance in upholding the rule of law, resulted in widespread, severe, human rights abuses," the report said.

Afghanistan was not much better.

"The country's human rights record remained poor due to a deadly insurgency, weak governmental and traditional institutions, corruption, drug trafficking, and the country's legacy of two-and-a-half decades of conflict," the report said.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. forces are at war to back U.S.-allied democratic governments. The two nations account for a huge chunk of the U.S. defense budget, and a disproportionate amount of diplomatic attention and resources.

The country-by-country report is compiled separately from U.S. diplomatic efforts, and presented to Congress.

"In Russia, centralization of power in the executive branch, a compliant State Duma, corruption and selectivity in enforcement of the law," onerous restrictions on aid groups and the media "continued to erode the government's accountability to its citizens," the report said.

It said Pakistan's human rights situation worsened during the year, "stemming primarily from President Musharraf's decision to impose a 42-day state of emergency, suspend the constitution, and dismiss the Supreme and High Provincial Courts."

North Korea was called an absolute dictatorship with repressive policies that control the most basic aspects of daily life. The report did not mention the intensive U.S. campaign for nuclear disarmament in North Korea, which included the first regular visits in decades by U.S. diplomats to the secretive regime in 2007.

"Pregnant female prisoners underwent forced abortions in some cases, and in other cases babies were killed upon birth in prisons," the report noted in its section covering detention and imprisonment in the North.