Chinese lawmakers on Thursday touted the country's legal system as the best way to protect the rights of citizens, despite the widespread detention and intimidation of political critics that is fueling a small but growing movement for greater civil liberties.
The system reflects rapid social changes since China instituted economic reforms three decades ago, two deputy directors of the national legislature's legal affairs committee told reporters at a government briefing.
But they refused to address concerns over the illegal harassment and detention of government critics, including Liu Xia, the wife of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, and Chen Guangcheng, a lawyer still under house arrest after completing a sentence for his activism.
"In China we provide full protection to the freedom of the citizens. If we have taken any mandatory actions, it is according to the law," Li said.
Li and colleague Xin Chunying were asked repeatedly about the death last week of a toddler who was struck by two vehicles and left for dead by passers-by, but declined to discuss it in detail. The accident sparked national soul searching over the callousness of many toward the sufferings of strangers.
The drivers have reportedly been arrested, but the charges they may face are unknown, as is any legal culpability of those who ignored the 2-year-old girl as she lay bleeding on the road.
"After all the facts are known, we should uphold social justice," Xin said.
Chinese Communist leaders say they have largely finished establishing what they call the "socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics." They reject Western political and legal concepts such as the separation of powers and an independent judiciary.
However, the block on further changes is causing increasing friction between China's government and the governed. When disorganized local calls were made for a Middle East-style uprising this spring, Beijing responded with overwhelming force, detaining, harassing and questioning scores or lawyers, activists, and government critics.
Persecuted individuals such as the lawyer Chen have also garnered rising support among politically aware Chinese. Chen is confined to his home surrounded by police and thugs to keep away outsiders one year after he completed a sentence of four years and three months in prison.
Chen, a blind, self-taught lawyer, had documented cases of forced abortions and other abuses by family planning officials. Supporters say the charges against him of instigating an attack on government offices and organizing a group of people to disrupt traffic were fabricated.
Online calls by activists to visit him in his village home in the eastern province of Shandong China have garnered an unusually large response, with some traipsing to his village and being detained, questioned and even beaten.
About 20 people have tried to visit the lawyer in eastern China in recent weeks, by one activist's count, among them Chinese not previously known to be human rights campaigners.