(IFJ/IFEX) - 1 June 2011 - Free expression advocates from around the world gathered this week in Beirut, Lebanon, at the 16th IFEX General Meeting. Thirty-three IFEX members signed on to the following letter to President Hu Jintao:
President of China
Fu You Street
Dear President Hu,
We, the undersigned members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), are writing to express our grave concerns regarding violations of human rights in China, with particular reference to a surge in violations committed by State authorities since February 20, 2011.
As we gather in Lebanon for IFEX's bi-annual conference of the international community of journalists' organisations and press freedom defenders, we note with alarm the efforts of China's authorities at all levels to restrict freedom of expression in regard to debate on political reform in China, following reform movements in the Middle East and North Africa since late 2010.
We respectfully remind you that China, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, is bound by international norms and agreements to uphold and implement the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
These rights include the right to liberty, the right to a fair trial, the right not to be arrested or detained arbitrarily, the right to no arbitrary interference with privacy, the right to freedom of movement, the right to freedom of expression, the right to hold opinions without interference, the right to seek and impart information, and the right to freedom of assembly.
All of these human rights are also enshrined in China's Constitution, specifically in Chapter 2, which refers to the Fundamental Rights and Duties of Citizens, as well as in Articles 35, 37, 39, 40 and 41. We agree with the spirit of China's Constitution that the above rights are fundamental and cannot be overridden or contravened.
However, China's central and provincial governments and authorities continue to breach your country's Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by actively seeking to silence and punish individuals and groups who speak out or share information on matters of significant public interest and concern.
Local journalists and others seeking to report on issues of great public interest, including the online movement debating a reform agenda for China and the continuing impacts of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, are severely restricted or punished.
Most recently, since February 20, 2011, we are aware of more than 100 people including journalists, online writers, artists, lawyers and activists who have been interrogated, detained, put under house arrest or jailed.
Those targeted include writer Ran Yunfei and human rights activists Ding Mao, Chen Wei and Zhu Yufu, who were charged with inciting subversion of state power after being detained by police on February 19 and 20. No explanation has been provided for the charges.
Meanwhile, renowned artist Ai Weiwei remains in detention after being taken by police from Beijing International Airport on April 3, 2011. No explanation was provided for his detention. However, following an outcry by domestic and international organisations, police now allege Ai was involved in tax evasion.
Wen Tao, a journalist and associate of Ai, also disappeared on April 3, 2011. There is no information on his whereabouts. Wen had been forced to leave the Global Times, a website connected with the People's Daily, after he reported on articles written by Ai. In one of the reports, Ai called on members of China's National Committee to investigate issues around the Sichuan earthquake and its continuing impacts. Commentator Song Zhibiao was suspended from his work after he wrote an editorial published in the Southern Metropolis newspaper on May 12, 2011 paying tribute to Ai for his kindness toward victims of the earthquake. The editorial was removed from the newspaper's website after several hours. Song is now threatened with dismissal. We further note regular violations of the rights of foreign journalists to report freely and safely, as when at least 16 journalists were assaulted and obstructed by police on February 27, 2011.
China's Constitution and the Regulations of the People's Republic of China Concerning Reporting Activities of Permanent Offices of Foreign Media Organisations and Foreign Journalists (Regulation 17) and the Regulations for Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan (Regulations 6 and 7) – issued and reiterated in the period before and after the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games – specify that journalists have the right to report independently and freely.
We appreciate President Hu's repeated assertions that the State has an obligation to promote social harmony. We believe that upholding respect for human rights does not conflict with this obligation, but supports it.
It is the duty of your Government to ensure all human rights are upheld in accordance with China's Constitution and international instruments, and to direct authorities and governments at all levels to defend and uphold these rights.
In a year marking the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party in China, we urge that you apply the authority of your office and Government to exercise your duties and responsibilities to:
• Protect the fundamental rights of all peoples in China.
• Release unconditionally all people who have been arbitrary detained.
• Direct law enforcement officers at all level of government to end harassment and obstruction of media personnel and those whom they report on.
• End all forms of censorship of the media and personal communications.
We alert you to our call for the United Nations Secretary General and High Commissioner for Human Rights to:
• Appoint a Special Rapporteur to investigate and report to the United Nations Human Rights Council on human rights violations in China, with special reference to violations of the right of journalists to report freely and independently and the rights of all to freedom of expression and access to information.
Finally, we call on you to prove China's commitment to the rights enshrined in its own Constitution by guiding your Government to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and to implement the principles of the Convention in upholding the people's fundamental right to freedom of expression and access to information.
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building
Centre for Independent Journalism - Malaysia
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Free Media Movement
Globe International Center
Hong Kong Journalists Association
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
Index on Censorship
IPS Communication Foundation - Bianet
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Rights Agenda
National Union of Somali Journalists
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création
Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión - OLA
Pacific Islands News Association
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
South East European Network for Professionalization of Media