New York, February 6, 2006—Officials at the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., have refused to accept delivery of 443 signed appeals calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Shi Tao, a journalist unjustly imprisoned for “leaking state secrets.” The Committee to Protect Journalists, which organized the appeal campaign, today posted on its Web site the text of the appeal, the names prominent petitioners, and the text of an accompanying letter to Zhou Wenzhong, the Chinese ambassador to the United States.
“The message in these appeals resonates all the more now that the Chinese embassy has, quite unfortunately, declined to read them. The hundreds of people who were moved to sign these appeals reflect the deep international concern about the imprisonment of Shi Tao,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We’re publicizing these appeals on our Web site to keep this injustice before the world’s attention and to prompt Chinese authorities to reconsider their stance.”
Among those signing the appeals were leading journalists, media executives, diplomats, and free press advocates such as Paul Steiger, Wall Street Journal managing editor and CPJ chairman; CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer; David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker; PBS correspondent Gwen Ifill; Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate magazine; Winston Lord, former U.S. ambassador to China; and Matthew Cooper, Time magazine journalist. (A longer list follows.)
Shi, an Internet essayist and former editor of the Changsha-based newspaper Dangdai Shang Bao, is serving a 10-year sentence for “leaking state secrets abroad” in a 2004 e-mail sent to the editor of an overseas Web site. The e-mail described Chinese government instructions on how his newspaper should cover the 15th anniversary of the military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. The U.S. Internet giant Yahoo helped Chinese authorities identify Shi through his e-mail account; he has been imprisoned since November 2004.
In recognition of his commitment to free expression, CPJ honored Shi with one of its International Press Freedom Awards in November 2005. Guests at the November 22 awards dinner in New York signed the appeals, which urge the Chinese government to release Shi and more than 30 other journalists jailed in China.
Officials at the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., refused to accept delivery of the postcard-sized appeals despite CPJ’s repeated efforts to present them over the past week. CPJ sought to deliver the appeals through a delivery service last Wednesday and again on Thursday. After delivery was rebuffed both times, CPJ Washington, D.C., representative Frank Smyth tried to deliver the package personally on Friday. Smyth explained the contents of the delivery and showed the appeals to an embassy representative, but Smyth was turned away.
According to CPJ research, nearly half of the journalists imprisoned in China in December 2005 were Internet writers. Most are serving lengthy jail terms on national security charges such as “inciting subversion” and “leaking state secrets abroad.”
The Chinese government clampdown on Internet speech has implicated U.S. Internet and technology companies that, in some cases, enabled repressive actions. In two other recent cases, Microsoft shut down a critical blog at the request of Chinese authorities, and Google agreed to filter search responses to terms such as “democracy” and “human rights” from its Chinese search engine.
“While Internet companies defend their actions by citing an obligation to comply with Chinese law, it’s unclear in these cases whether the companies were responding to a legal court order or political pressure from Chinese authorities,” Cooper added. “We call on U.S. Internet and technology companies operating in China to operate in a transparent manner and make public the specific law under which they took these actions.”
Here is the text of the appeal:
I support the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, non-profit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide, in its campaign to free imprisoned journalist Shi Tao, a freelance Internet essayist and former editor of the Changsha-based Dangdai Shang Bao, who is serving a 10-year sentence for distributing information online.
Shi Tao has been imprisoned since November 2004. In April 2005, the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court convicted him of “leaking state secrets abroad” in connection with an e-mail that he sent to the editor of an overseas Chinese Web site a year earlier. The e-mail described propaganda department instructions on how his newspaper should cover the 15th anniversary of the military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square.
CPJ research shows that 32 journalists were imprisoned in China as of November 1, 2005.
Shi Tao’s imprisonment clearly violates the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which China is bound as a member of the United Nations, and by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has signed.
I call on you to release Shi Tao and the other jailed journalists immediately and unconditionally, and uphold the right of all journalists to work freely and safely.
Here are some of the prominent signers:
Ron Allen, NBC News
Jane Arraf, Council on Foreign Relations
Thomas S. Blanton, National Security Archive
Marie Brenner, Vanity Fair
Matthew Cooper, Time
Daniel Coronel, Colombian journalist
John Dinges, author
Bo Epstein, NBC News
Micah Garen, documentary filmmaker
Robert Giles, Neiman Foundation, Harvard University
Philip Gourevitch, The Paris Review
Mark Halperin, ABC News
Gwen Ifill, PBS
Adi Ignatius, Time
Myron Kandel, CNN
Kevin Klose, NPR
Nicholas Lehmann, Columbia University
Lara Logan, CBS News
Winston Lord, former ambassador to China
Renee Montagne, NPR
Victor Navasky, The Nation
Andres Oppenheimer, Miami Herald
George Packer, The New Yorker
Norman Pearlstine, Time Warner Inc.
David Remnick, The New Yorker
Keith Richburg, The Washington Post
Richard Roth, CNN
Bob Schieffer, CBS News
Paul Steiger, Wall Street Journal
Jeffrey Toobin, CNN
Peter Van Sant, CBS News
Manuel Vasquez Portal, formerly imprisoned Cuban journalist
Jacob Weisberg, Slate magazine
Mark Whitaker, Newsweek
John M. Seigenthaler, NBC News