Open Letter Organizer Seized by Police for Demanding Rights as Olympics Approach

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Open Letter Organizer Seized by Police for Demanding Rights as Olympics Approach

Authorities must respect rights to freedom of expression and criticism of the government

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, February 28, 2008)- In the early hours of February 28, immediately after the release of an open letter with the signatures of 12,709 petitioners calling on the Chinese government to improve the human rights situation, at least one organizer of the letter, Wang Guilan (王桂兰), was seized by police. Other organizers, afraid of meeting the same fate, cancelled a press conference scheduled for today.

In the letter, petitioners call the attention of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, both due to meet for their annual sessions in Beijing in March, to the plight of an estimated ten million petitioners who are often persecuted by government officials for complaining about social ills. The letter also made an explicit appeal that human rights be improved as China prepares to host the Olympics:

“If a country cannot protect the basic human rights [of its people], then it obviously is not a modern and civilized country…the Olympics should be governed by civilized rules and contested by civilized people…As citizens of the host country of the Olympic Games, we hope we have…the human rights and respect enjoyed by civilized societies,” said the letter.

The letter calls on Chinese leaders to allow for political and legal reforms, specifically, the protection of basic rights such as freedom of expression, press and association, as guaranteed in the Chinese Constitution; the abolition of the Re-Education Through Labour (RTL) system; and the immediate end of the persecution of petitioners, including their interception and detention, and the release of all petitioners currently detained, imprisoned or sent to RTL camps and psychiatric institutions.

Ms. Wang was seized in Beijing by police from the Public Security Bureau of her home province, Hubei. Her whereabouts are currently unknown. Wang joins a growing list of detainees and prisoners, such as Hu Jia (胡 佳) and Yang Chunlin (杨春林), persecuted for their public call for an improvement in human rights in the year in which China will host the Olympics.

Reportedly, a number of other petitioners involved in the public letter were also seized by police.

In recent years, petitioners have submitted open letters advocating legal and political reforms during important state and party gatherings. However, not only are their requests ignored but the lead organizers of the letters are often immediately seized and punished. One example is Liu Jie (刘杰), who is serving 18 months of RTL for organizing a public letter signed by 12,150 petitioners addressing Party leaders at the 17th Party Congress in October 2007.

CHRD calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Wang, Liu and other petitioners who are detained for voicing their concerns publicly in open letters.

CHRD believes that they are seized and detained solely for engaging in the peaceful activity of organizing fellow petitioners and exercising their freedom of expression. The rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association are guaranteed in, respectively, Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which China has signed (but not yet ratified) and the Chinese Constitution. These rights are also enshrined in Articles 35.

CHRD also believes that the persecution of petitioners is a violation of not only the right of freedom of expression, but also the right to criticize the government and seek redress for official abuses guaranteed by Article 41 of the Chinese Constitution.

For more information, please visit:
Give Us Back Our Rights and Dignity-2008: a Public Letter to the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference by Petitioners” (available in Chinese, dated February 27, 2008)
The Road to Petitioning Is Filled with Tears and Blood-an Investigative Report on Petitioning” (available in Chinese, dated February 7, 2008)

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