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PEN American Center and CPJ statement on China's domestic and international free expression obligations

(CPJ/PEN American Center/IFEX) - New York City, March 3, 2011 - In the past month, as the world's attention has been riveted by events in North Africa and the Middle East, the government of China has moved aggressively to restrict the ability of its citizens to communicate among themselves and with the rest of the world. Critical or independent voices, including writers, journalists, bloggers, and human rights lawyers, have been detained or are being held in isolation under house arrest. News reports of demonstrations in North Africa and the Middle East as well as within China are rigorously censored while massive police presences have been deployed to discourage citizens from peacefully assembling.

PEN American Center and the Committee to Protect Journalists are profoundly troubled by this escalation of censorship and repression in the People's Republic of China.

In recent days, this repression has included an alarming series of attacks on international journalists working in China. Last Sunday's outburst of violence directed at foreign journalists in the heart of Beijing - in which reporters were punched and kicked, video footage was seized, and at least a dozen foreign correspondents were forcibly detained - follows a similar incident in Donshigu village in the Eastern Shandong Province a week before. International journalists are now increasingly harassed and denied access to even the most public and communal spaces in Beijing and elsewhere. China is already the world's leading jailer of journalists, together with Iran.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory, guarantees everyone the "freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice."

When Chinese authorities jail, attack, intimidate, or otherwise seek to restrict communications among citizens, within and beyond China, they are denying their own people this most basic right. When they attack, harass, intimidate, or otherwise obstruct members of the international press from serving as the eyes and ears of the world in China, they are expanding the sphere of their violations and breaching the rights of people beyond their own borders.

This is hardly the conduct of a country that seeks to exercise global leadership, and these abuses should cease immediately.

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