China Rights Forum, Summer 1999
On April 19, Human Rights in China and Human Rights Watch issued an appeal for the release of Chen Meng.
Chen Meng, 37, a musician imprisoned for leaking a list of Chinese citizens with valid passports who were barred from leaving or returning to China because of their political activities, is reportedly seriously ill with a liver disease. He is currently detained in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, having served four years of a 12-year prison term.
Chen is said to be suffering from hepatitis B and C, and should be given a thorough medical examination by doctors not linked to the prison system. In addition, he is thought to have been held in solitary confinement since he was detained on March 14, 1995, which likely aggravated his condition. Prolonged use of solitary confinement violates both Chinese law and international human rights standards.
According to documents on the case, Chen was tried by the Shenzhen Intermediate Peoples Court in a closed hearing in 1996 and convicted of illegally providing state secrets to organizations outside Chinas borders. The verdict sentencing him to prison was delivered on April 15, 1997, and some months later, his appeal against his conviction was rejected. He was accused of faxing a top-secret document to "organizations outside Chinas borders."
The document in question was the notorious "blacklist" of Chinese nationals or former nationals either barred from entering China or to be subjected to arrest or other measures on arrival. Although the existence of such a list had long been suspected, there was no evidence of it until Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China published a report containing the information from the document Chen Meng had sent to Hong Kong. This report, entitled China: Enforced Exile of Dissidents: Government Re-entry Blacklist Revealed, was published in January 1995.
The impact of the document, entitled A List of 49 Overseas Members of Reactionary Organizations Currently Subject to Major Control, was to strand dissident citizens abroad without legal protections of any kind, in clear violation of international law. The vast majority of the people on the list have done nothing more than engage in peaceful advocacy for democracy and human rights. Fifty percent of them were on police "most wanted" notices following the June Fourth crackdown. Others include former political prisoners and people who have had their Chinese passports confiscated or canceled while living overseas.
As the rejection of Chens appeal indicates, the authorities considered that the release of this document was damaging to the "reputation" of the government, and this is why it was classified. Most legal scholars reject such an application of the concept of "state secrets." According to the Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, drafted in 1995 by an international team of human rights experts, restrictions on freedom of expression on national security grounds are illegitimate when their purpose is "protecting the government from embarrassment, or exposure of wrongdoing, or to conceal information about the functioning of its public institutions..."
Chen was an unemployed musician at the time of his arrest. He had obtained a copy of the document from his brother-in-law, Tang Tao, then a border guard and now serving a six-year term for leaking state secrets. For her role in helping fax the document to Hong Kong, Chens sister, Bai Suping, was sentenced to a two-and-a-half-year term in Reeducation Through Labor, an administrative punishment imposed without a trial. Bai completed the term in 1997.
A document recently adopted by the United Nations indicates that those who expose human rights abuses should not be subject to prosecution. When Chen faxed the "blacklist" document to Hong Kong in November 1994, he was clearly motivated by the desire to expose the abuse of human rights which the blacklist represented, and thus his action should be considered as protected under the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in December 1998. The Declarations Article 8 reads:
Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to have effective access, on a non-discriminatory basis, to participation in the government of ones country and in the conduct of public affairs.
This includes, inter alia, the right, individually and in association with others, to submit to governmental bodies and agencies and organizations concerned with public affairs, criticism and proposals for their functioning and to draw attention to any aspect of their work which may hinder or impede the promotion, protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Furthermore, last October, China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right of all citizens to enter and leave their own country and the right to impart information "regardless of frontiers."
Human Rights in China and Human Rights Watch believe that Chen and Tang Tao should be promptly released and cleared of all charges. The reports of Chens ill-health suggest that he should be released on medical parole immediately.