The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
May 27, 1998
Dear Mr. President:
As you prepare for your forthcoming visit to the People's Republic of China, I write to ask you to raise the case of imprisoned Chinese journalist Gao Yu with President Jiang Zemin and to call for her immediate release on humanitarian grounds.
This matter is of particular importance to Columbia University because Gao Yu was just days away from taking up a year-long study program here at the Graduate School of Journalism when she was arrested by the Chinese authorities on October 2, 1993. Our urgent appeal is prompted by her
deteriorating health, which requires medical treatment denied her in China.
Accused of "providing state secrets to parties outside the borders," a charge that is believed to be related to articles on politics and economics she wrote for the Mirror Monthly magazine in Hong Kong, Gao Yu was convicted in a secret closed trial a year after her arrest and sentenced to
six years in prison. It was the second time that this distinguished journalist had been a victim of China's laws penalizing independent reporting. After the suppression of the pro-democracy movement in June 1989, she was detained for 14 months as a result of her work as the deputy
editor of the magazine Economic Weekly. She was released without being tried.
Gao Yu is among the most respected journalists in China, and her courage and dedication to her craft have long been recognized by the outside world. In 1995 she received the Golden Pen of Freedom Award from the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers, and in May 1997 she was awarded the first UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.
The years of hardship and deprivation in prison have devastated Gao Yu, who is now 54. She suffers from Meniere's disease, which causes severe hearing loss, and serious cardiac problems. Her son, Zhao Meng, was quoted in the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post in April as follows: "My mother is very sick and our call for a medical parole will not be taken into consideration unless she confesses to crimes she did not commit." Her husband, Zhao Yuankang, has said that she was denied medical care because she has not admitted her "crime." He fears that she could die in prison, where she has shared a cell with as many as 11 others.
But as important as the plight of Gao Yu is to this University, her suffering is ultimately emblematic of the broad restrictions imposed on free expression in China. The international press freedom group the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, that President Jiang Zemin's one-party state continues to control all forms of media, and monitors and censors most Internet communication. Journalists are subject to arbitrary detention and are
frequent targets of harassment. CPJ documentation shows that at least nine journalists remain imprisoned in China because of their work as journalists. In short, China has yet to take the necessary steps toward creating a climate conducive to the development of a free press, that
essential precondition for a truly democratic society.
Recognizing that constructive engagement with China on human rights is a cornerstone of an administration policy that contributed to the earlier release of pro-democracy advocates Wang Dan and Wei Jingsheng, the latter of whom is now a research scholar at Columbia University, I hope that you will emphasize to the Chinese leadership the seriousness of Gao Yu's case and the unacceptability of the restrictions imposed on free expression in China.
A meaningful step toward the goal of a more democratic future for China would be signaled by the release of Gao Yu -- before her fragile health deteriorates further. Please be assured that Columbia stands ready to welcome her into the university community to take up her long-postponed study at the earliest possible time.
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