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Open Letter: Submitted to President Bush in advance of meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao

April 12, 2006

On April 12, 2006, HRIC submitted an open letter and a list of urgent detention cases in China to U.S. President Bush in advance of his meeting
with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

HRIC urges President Bush to raise issues of particular human rights concerns, especially the increasing economic disparities undermining social stability and peaceful and sustainable development, and censorship and crackdowns on freedom of expression and access to information.

Dear President Bush,

As a non-governmental organization that has been working to promote human rights in China for the past 17 years, Human Rights in China (HRIC) welcomes the opportunity for constructive dialogue presented by Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to the United States. The high-level visit is also an important opportunity to send a strong message about the commitment of the U.S. government to addressing human rights issues.

As documented widely by the U.S. State Department and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, China continues to face serious human rights challenges, particularly in the areas of free expression, criminal justice and harassment of defense lawyers, freedom of religion, harassment of petitioners and peaceful protesters, and arbitrary detention of political activists and rights defenders. These violations of human rights continue despite provisions in the Chinese Constitution that guarantee respect for human rights and despite obligations the Chinese government recognized by ratifying numerous international human rights treaties. The rights that the Chinese government has agreed to implement in key human rights treaties must be consistently and coherently monitored and promoted.

Due to the breadth of issues that will be discussed during President Hu's visit, we would like to focus your attention on issues of particular human rights concern, and urge you to raise them during your meetings:

  • Increasing economic disparities undermining social stability and peaceful and sustainable development; and
  • Censorship and crackdowns on freedom of expression and access to information.

Increasing economic disparities and impact on peaceful and sustainable development

HRIC welcomes the announcement that your talks will focus on promoting friendly cooperation and peaceful development. However, sustainable and stable development must be premised on respect for human rights.

The macro-economic growth presented by the Chinese government as creating a prosperous, open-market economy belies the realities of an ever-increasing divide between China's rich and poor, urban and rural communities, and Han Chinese and ethnic minorities. The rapidly increasing number of public protests demonstrates a growing frustration among Chinese citizens as well as a growing Chinese rights consciousness. The impact of rising social protest and the need to address its causes must be raised during high-level bilateral discussions.

Censorship and crackdowns on freedom of expression and access to information

The importance of building robust trade ties with China must not erode commitments to transparency, openness, fairness and international human rights obligations. The right to freedom of expression is seriously constrained in China. Recent disclosures that U.S. companies have been complicit in undermining freedom of expression and access to information raise additional concerns. Journalists Shi Tao and Internet essayist Li Zhi, for example, were both sentenced to lengthy prison terms after Yahoo! Inc. provided Chinese authorities with information regarding their e-mail accounts.

We hope you will stress the importance of open debate and in particular, that you will raise the cases of the many individuals arbitrarily detained or imprisoned on charges related to peaceful expression. Among these cases, we would like to draw your attention to Internet essayist Li Zhi, journalist Shi Tao, and to Zhao Yan, a former researcher for The New York Times who has been held for 18 months despite the reported withdrawal of the original charges against him. The details of these cases are appended to this letter.

HRIC respectfully urges you to ensure that these serious human rights concerns are not overshadowed by trade and security issues during President Hu's visit. The rights of Chinese citizens to freely express their views and actively participate in civil society must be promoted and upheld if China is to ensure peaceful development for all.


Sharon Hom
Executive Director