21 October 1997

Alert

CPJ sends open letter to Chinese President calling for improvements in press freedom in China


Incident details

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(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is a open letter written by the
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to Chinese President Jiang
Zemin on the occasion of his state visit to the United States of
America from 26 October to 2 November 1997. In the letter, CPJ
urges Zemin to order the release from prison of sixteen
journalists (see list, which is appended to this alert); to
affirm his government's commitment to non-interference in Hong
Kong, especially in regard to the territory's free press; and to
lift the strict government controls on the media in China.




"October 17, 1997


"Your Excellency,


"During your state visit to the United States from October 26 to
November 2, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
respectfully urges you to read the papers and watch the evening
news. Dig through the daily reporting in Philadelphia, where you
will visit Independence Hall, for example, or in Boston, the
cradle of the American revolution, and you will get a clear
picture of what it means to live in a democracy.


"The newspapers you read and the news broadcasts you see on
television during your time in the United States will be filled
with the noise of contending voices. Our President will be
pilloried by his opponents in print and he will respond.
Community leaders with competing visions of progress will shout
at one another across the airwaves. Financial news will routinely
guide the surging American stock market through the day as the
fortunes of our companies are closely tracked.


"Most important, Mr. President, unlike the press freedom climate
in your country, the journalists reporting on the events you will
read about here will not be arrested, detained, or imprisoned for
doing their job. In China, at least 16 journalists are serving
long prison sentences for alleged offenses having to do with
their news or opinion reporting. We respectfully suggest that you
order these journalists freed.


"We do not mention the American press merely to hold it up as an
example, but rather to make a point: In a stable, prosperous
democracy, a free press is a source of strength. Nowhere, in our
view, is this case made more strongly than in the `special
administrative region' of Hong Kong, which has just been reunited
with China.


"In what is the freest, most prosperous Chinese city on earth,
the press has been free to do its job without fear of
retribution. With 16 major daily newspapers, two commercial
television stations, and two comical radio stations, in addition
to the seven English and Chinese-language outlets of
government-owned but independently operated Radio Television Hong
Kong, the media have flourished in Hong Kong.


"Further, Hong Kong's remarkable emergence as an international
financial center and gateway for overseas investment in China
would have been impossible without the transparency and
accountability fostered by the existence of a strong and vigilant
press.


"Contrast the situation in Hong Kong with the conditions in the
rest of your country, Mr. President, and the contradiction could
not be more obvious. In China, dissidents and journalists are
routinely imprisoned, foreign reporters can be expelled without
cause, a free press is a distant dream, and financial markets
rise and fall on the strength of rumor rather than information.


"Already, we fear, the poison that has subdued the press in China
is beginning to infect Hong Kong. Local journalists and public
opinion polls report a disturbing increase in self-censorship and
a marked unwillingness by some to freely criticize the Chinese
government. Reporters note that Executive Secretary Tung Chee-hwa
is less accessible to the press than his predecessor, British
Gov. Chris Patten. Hong Kong reporters continue to face
strictures when working in China.


"In at least one case, that of publishing magnate Jimmy Lai's
Next Media Group, harsh criticism of Beijing may have resulted in
pressure being applied against the company. For Lai, the pressure
came last February when the underwriter for Next's
much-anticipated Initial Public Offering on the Hong Kong stock
market suddenly withdrew at the last moment, leaving most
analysts to conclude that China had secretly intervened to punish
Lai.


"While we take heart from the fact that no overt controls have
been placed on the Hong Kong media by the Chinese government, we
are concerned for the future. Your record, Mr. President, is not
good. In addition to the journalists in jail in China, many of
them held for years without charges, others are cowed into
submission by fear of similar treatment. According to the U.S.
State Department's annual human rights report, "all public
dissent against the [communist] party and government was
effectively silenced by intimidation, exile, the imposition of
prison terms, administrative detention or house arrest."


"We are genuinely impressed by the economic gains made by China
in recent years, Mr. President, but we ask you not to equate
repression with strength or silence with consent. China is weaker
for having muzzled the courageous voices of writers like Wei
Jingsheng and Gao Yu. We urge you again to take this opportunity,
while you are in the United States, to order the release from
prison of Wei Jingsheng, Gao Yu, and the 14 other imprisoned
journalists listed below.


"As an organization dedicated to press freedom worldwide, CPJ
further asks you to affirm your government's commitment to non
interference in Hong Kong, especially with regard to the
territory's free press. Take no steps, Mr. President, to enact
harsh national security legislation aimed at curbing the liberty
of the Hong Kong press.


"We also ask that you lift the strict government controls on the
media in China. Allow journalists to travel freely and report on
what they see. Allow financial reporters to hold Chinese
companies and markets accountable to public scrutiny and the rule
of law. Allow the foreign and local press free access to
`forbidden' territories like Tibet and Xinjiang, in order to lift
the cloud of secrecy that has surrounded these and other parts of
China.


"In short, Mr. President, broaden the dramatic steps you have
taken to liberalize and modernize the Chinese economy by wedding
those policies to a real commitment to improve the lives of the
Chinese people through participation in an open society based on
the rule of law, with a free and unhindered press.


"Sincerely,

The Committee to Protect Journalists"

For further information, contact Lin Neumann (x140) or


October 17, 1997

Sixteen Journalists Imprisoned in China:


1. Fan Jianping, "Beijing Ribao". Imprisoned: 1989. Fan, an
editor at "Beijing Ribao" ("Beijing Daily"), was arrested
sometime after the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 4 June 1989.


2. Ji Kunxing, "Pioneers". Imprisoned: September 1989. Ji was
tried in Kunming on charges of "fomenting a counterrevolutionary
plot." He and three others had published an underground magazine
called "Pioneers", circulated anti-government leaflets and put up
anti-government posters.


3. Jin Naiyi, "Beijing Ribao". Imprisoned: 1989. Jin, a
journalist with "Beijing Ribao", was arrested after the Tiananmen
Square crackdown of.


4. Li Jian, Wenyi Bao. Imprisoned: July 1989. Li, a journalist
with "Wenyi Bao" ("Literature and Arts News"), was arrested and
detained.


5. Shang Jingzhong, "Pioneers". Imprisoned: September 1989.
Shang was tried in Kunming on charges of "fomenting a
counterrevolutionary plot." He and three others had published
"Pioneers", circulated anti-government leaflets and put up
anti-government posters.


6. Shi Qing, "Pioneers". Imprisoned: September 1989. Shi was
tried in Kunming on charges of "fomenting a counterrevolutionary
plot." He and three others had published "Pioneers", circulated
anti-government leaflets and put up anti-government posters.


7. Yang Hong, "Zhongguo Qingnian Bao". Imprisoned: 13 June
1989. Yang, a reporter for "Zhongguo Qingnian Bao" ("China Youth
News"), was arrested in Kunming and charged with circulating
"rumormongering leaflets" and protesting against corruption.


8. Yu Anmin, "Pioneers". Imprisoned: September 1989. Yu was
tried in Kunming on charges of "fomenting a counterrevolutionary
plot." He and three others had published "Pioneers", circulated
anti-government leaflets and put up anti-government posters.


9. Yu Zhongmin, "Fazhi Yuekan". Imprisoned: 1989. Yu, a
journalist with "Fazhi Yuekan" ("Law Monthly") in Shanghai, was
arrested sometime after the Tiananmen Square crackdown. He was
later described in an article in "Wenhui Daily" as an "agitator"
of the Shanghai student demonstrations.


10. Chen Yanbin, "Tielu". Imprisoned: Late 1990. Chen, a former
Qinghua University student, was arrested in late 1990 and
sentenced to fifteen years in prison and four years without
political rights after his release. Together with Zhang Yafei, he
had produced an unofficial magazine called "Tielu" ("Iron
Currents") about the 1989 crackdown at Tiananmen Square. Several
hundred mimeographed copies of the magazine were distributed. The
government termed the publication "reactionary" and charged Chen
with dissemination of counterrevolutionary propaganda and
incitement.


11. Zhang Yafei, "Tielu". Imprisoned: September 1990. Zhang, a
former student at Beifang Communications University, was arrested
and charged with dissemination of counterrevolutionary propaganda
and incitement. In March 1991, he was sentenced to eleven years
in prison and two years without political rights after his
release. Zhang edited "Tielu" about the crackdown at Tiananmen
Square.


12. Wu Shishen, Xinhua news agency. Imprisoned: October or
November 1992. Arrested in 1992, Wu, a Xinhua news agency
reporter, received a life sentence in August 1993 for providing a
Hong Kong journalist with a "state classified" advance copy of
President Jiang Zemin's 14th Party Congress address.


13. Gao Yu, Freelancer. Imprisoned: 2 October 1993. Gao Yu was
detained two days before she was to depart for the United States
to start a one-year research fellowship at Columbia University's
Graduate School of Journalism. On 10 November 1994, she was tried
without counsel and sentenced to six years in prison for "leaking
state secrets" about China's structural reforms in articles she
wrote for the pro-Beijing Hong Kong magazine "Mirror Monthly".
Gao Yu had previously been jailed for fourteen months following
the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and released in August 1990
after showing symptoms of a heart condition. On 3 May 1997, Gao
Yu was awarded the World Press Freedom Prize by the United
Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. The
Chinese government attacked UNESCO and condemned its director for
honouring Gao Yu.


14. Ma Tao, "China Health Education News". Imprisoned: August
1993. Ma, editor of "China Health Education News", received a
six-year prison term for allegedly helping Xinhua news agency
reporter Wu Shishen provide a Hong Kong journalist with President
Jiang Zemin's "state classified" 14th Party Congress address. Ma
is believed to be Wu's wife.


15. Wei Jingsheng. Imprisoned: 1 April 1994. Police detained
Wei, one of the most prominent dissidents in China and former
co-editor of the pro-democracy journal "Tansuo" ("Explorations"),
shortly after he met with John Shattuck, the U.S. assistant
secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
Wei was not formally arrested and charged until 21 November 1995.
On 13 December of that year, a Beijing court convicted him of
"conspiring to subvert the government" and sentenced him to
fourteen years in prison. Foreign reporters were barred from
attending the trial. His sentence was upheld on 28 December after
a closed appeal hearing. Wei before that had served fourteen
years of a fifteen-year sentence for "counterrevolutionary"
activities that included writing essays criticizing the
government and promoting democratic rule. After he was released
on parole from that prison term, on 14 September 1993, he wrote
several opinion pieces for publications abroad and made a deal
with a Hong Kong magazine to publish his prison memoirs, which
prompted an official warning that he was violating his parole. In
June 1997, Wei was severely beaten by six criminals assigned to
guard him in prison. Wei, suffering from several chronic illness,
was being detained in worsening prison conditions. Viking Penguin
this year published a collection of letters Wei addressed to his
family and to the Chinese government in "The Courage to Stand
Alone: Letters from Prison and Other Writings". The book includes
the text of his famous essay "The Fifth Modernization," which
called for democracy and challenged Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.


16. Wang Dan. Imprisoned: 21 May 1995. Wang, a former student
leader, pro-democracy activist and frequent contributor to
foreign publications, was sentenced to eleven years in prison for
conspiring to subvert the government. He had been detained at an
undisclosed location since May 1995. Wang's offences included
publishing articles that were deemed objectionable by Beijing and
receiving donations from foreign human rights groups. Foreign
reporters were barred from the courtroom during his trial, which
started 30 October, and the domestic press was prohibited from
reporting. International observers, representatives of
international human rights organizations, and the diplomatic
community were also denied access to the legal proceedings. On 10
November, the Beijing Higher People's Court took ten minutes to
reject his appeal. He was immediately sent to a prison in remote
Jinzhou, in Liaoning Province. Wang previously had been jailed
for nearly four years after he led pro-democracy protests in
Tiananmen Square in 1989.




Source

Committee to Protect Journalists
330 7th Ave., 11th Floor
New York, NY 10001
USA
info (@) cpj.org
Fax:+1 212 4659568
China
 
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