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Open Letter to Central Government on May 3 (World Press Freedom Day)

One Dream Must be Realized ----- Freedom of Expression in China
3 May 2008 Hong Kong
         Today, on World Press Freedom Day – and 97 days until the Beijing Olympics – we the undersigned freedom of expression advocacy groups, call for the Chinese government to realize a common dream of journalists, writers, artists, academics and others in China: a country where freedom of expression is guaranteed. In their 2001 bid to hold the Olympics in Beijing, the Chinese government pledged to the world that it would allow “the media complete freedom to report when they come to China.”
         Now is the time to honour that pledge. Now is the time to make the dream of freedom of expression in China a reality.
         To date, the dream is far from being realized.
         China remains the biggest jailer of journalists and writers. Today, at least 39 journalists and writers are in prison. Many are imprisoned on charges of “Incitement of Subversion”, a term that is vague and lacks clear definition. We believe these journalist writers are put behind bars solely for their writing and reporting. Sentencing and detention occurs even as the Beijing Olympics approaches. As recently as April this year, the out-spoken human rights activist Hu Jia (胡嘉) was sentenced to three and a half years’ imprisonment for articles he wrote, some back in 2001. Journalist Qi Chonghuai (齊崇淮) has been detained with out trial since 25 June 2007. Based on all available evidence, we believe these charges to be trumped up.
         In January 2007, China issued regulations relaxing restrictions on foreign media coverage of China in the period before, during and after the Olympics. These regulations explicitly say “foreign journalists have right to interview any individual as long as reach consent with interviewee, does not require approval by Chinese authority”. And the Mister of Foreign Affair explained that the regulation permitted foreign journalists also to cover “political, economic, social and cultural matters of China.” With only 97 days to go, we are deeply concerned that regulations meant to come into effect over a year ago have still not been fully implemented. Individual journalists have been intimidated, newspapers have been cautioned for not toeing the government line and websites have been blocked in China over the past year, raising serious doubts about China’s commitment to ensure “complete media freedom” during the Beijing Olympics.  
         Even the Hong Kong SAR, which has enjoyed a certain degree of freedom of expression and transparency of governance, is increasingly facing challenges. These past few days, international writers and an artist were denied entry to Hong Kong to attend an international conference and art fair to mark World Press Freedom Day. This raises serious questions about the erosion of rights in Hong Kong.
         On10 April 2008, the International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge visited Beijing and held a press conference. While emphasizing that the Olympics is a sporting event, he said that for the IOC, “freedom of expression is something that is absolute.” We, the undersigned, concur and request the Chinese government honour its promise of “complete media freedom”.We call on the Chinese government to:
-         Implement laws and regulations – from the central to the local government level – that give practical and substantive meaning to the guarantee of freedom of expression enshrined in the Chinese constitution.
-         Unconditional and immediately release writers and journalists imprisoned for their conscience writings.
Co-organisers, One Dream: Free Expression in China
Hong Kong Journalists Association  
International Federation of Journalists
Reporters Sans Frontieres
World Association of Newspapers
American PEN
Independent Chinese PEN Centre
Hong Kong Chinese PEN Centre
Sydney PEN Centre
03/05/2008 16:09   updated more
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