CPJ urges Bush to raise curbs on press freedom with visiting Chinese president

April 17, 2006

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Via Facsimile: 202-456-2461

Dear President Bush:

In advance of your April 20 meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent organization dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, urges you to ensure that the issue of press freedom is part of the bilateral discussions that will take place during the visit.

Since taking office in 2003, President Hu has overseen the most severe crackdown on the media since the aftermath of the suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Propaganda authorities have increased the number of topics off limits for media coverage, tightened official censorship rules, and intensified restrictions on the Internet. They have also continued their policy of jailing journalists who offend government officials or cross lines set by censors.

Given this dismal record we think it is important for you to reiterate the United States’ concern for the fate of prisoners in China, and call attention to the deterioration in freedom of expression in that country.

At the end of 2005, CPJ documented at least 32 journalists imprisoned for their work in China, more than any other country. These include journalists Gao Qinrong, a Xinhua news agency reporter serving a 12-year sentence since 1998 in reprisal for his stories exposing official corruption; Zhao Yan, a New York Times researcher who remains in prison despite a decision in March this year to drop charges of revealing state secrets which were brought against him in connection with a Times story in 2004 on leadership changes; Shi Tao, serving a 10-year sentence since 2004 for leaking propaganda authorities’ instructions to his newspaper; and Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong-based Straits Times correspondent accused of espionage who will have been in custody for a full year on April 22 without trial.

China has continued to jail more journalists in 2005 and the early part of 2006, including a documentary filmmaker, Internet writers, and print journalists jailed in acts of official reprisal. Among the most recent cases, which we urge you to raise, are these:

  • Li Jianping, a freelance Internet writer, was tried on April 12 in northeast China’s Shandong Province on charges of “inciting subversion of state authority,” a charge which usually carries a prison term of several years. A verdict in the case is expected within weeks. Li was first detained in May 2005 on suspicion of defamation after writing critically about Chinese government leaders in banned overseas Web sites, many of them based in the United States.
  • Wu Hao, a documentary filmmaker who lived in the United States for 12 years, was working on a film about underground Christian churches in China when he was detained by Beijing police on February 22. His sister told reporters in late March that officials accused Wu of committing a crime, but did not clarify their allegations.
  • Li Changqing, deputy news director at Fuzhou Daily, was sentenced to three years in prison in January for “spreading alarmist information” by reporting an outbreak of dengue fever in his home province for a banned U.S.-based Web site. He was originally detained in early 2005 after publicly defending a whistleblower who exposed official corruption.

Political reform and democratization cannot happen in China without the participation of an unfettered press. Without journalists who are free to expose local corruption, criticize government leaders and document the dynamics of a rapidly changing society, no other freedom can flourish. We ask you to highlight the important issues of press freedom in your meetings with President Hu, and to urge the immediate and unconditional release of all journalists imprisoned for their work in China.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.


Ann Cooper
Executive Director