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Twenty-nine Chinese intellectuals appeal to government to allow free expression in Tibet

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is an ARTICLE 19 press release:

Tibet: Dialogue and respect for freedom of expression is the legitimate and effective response

ARTICLE 19 condemns the Chinese authorities' brutal crackdown on Tibetans in Lhasa and the imposition of restrictions and controls on freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the free flow of information. The organisation joins its voice to those of the 29 courageous Chinese intellectuals who, on 22 March, appealed to the Chinese government to allow the Tibetan people to express fully their grievances and hopes.

The right to freedom of opinion and expression is a fundamental right which safeguards the exercise of all other rights and is a critical underpinning of democracy. China has signed, but not yet ratified, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the fundamental human rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Signing the ICCPR "creates an obligation to refrain, in good faith, from acts that would defeat the object and the purpose of the treaty". China is thus required to act in good faith to respect ICCPR obligations to respect freedom of expression (Article 19) and the right to peaceful protest (Article 22).

Limited restrictions on these rights are permitted, for example where necessary to protect interests such as public order, but only where they are provided for by law, and are necessary and proportionate to secure the interest. The violence in Lhasa, the killings of demonstrators, and the restrictions imposed on the press and on the free flow of information fail to meet these basic requirements. Instead of responding with force, the Chinese authorities should engage in dialogue with relevant actors to ensure that a peaceful solution can be found to the underlying problems.

ARTICLE 19 is also deeply concerned with the censorship imposed on the media and the one-sided coverage of these events by the official Chinese media. ARTICLE 19 is particularly concerned that this coverage may further ignite ethnic tensions and incite violence as protestors feel they do not have any alternative options for articulating their concerns.

History and experiences the world over have demonstrated that the exercise of the right to freedom of expression plays a key role in promoting tolerance and mutual understanding in society, whereas repression and censorship are likely to prevent longer-term solutions to underlying problems. In the longer-term, dialogue and the safe exchange of views constitute the only avenue for lasting peace, mutual and international respect.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Chinese authorities to:
- Respect and protect the right of all Chinese citizens, including Tibetans, to freedom of conscience and opinion, and to the peaceful expression of their views.
- Protect the right to freedom of expression of the Chinese intellectuals who endorsed the 22 March petition and refrain from taking any punitive action against them.
- Lift the restrictions imposed on journalists and the free flow of information to and from China and the Tibetan region.

ARTICLE 19 also urges the Chinese authorities to enter into dialogue with all parties concerned, including the Dalai Lama, with the view of finding a lasting and peaceful solution to the situation in Tibet.

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