CPJ calls for release of imprisoned Chinese writer in failing health

August 16, 2007

His Excellency Hu Jintao
President, People’s Republic of China
C/o Embassy of the People’s Republic of China
2300 Connecticut Ave.,
NW Washington, D.C. 20008

Via facsimile: (202) 588-0032

Dear President Hu:

The Committee to Protect for Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the deteriorating health of writer Zhang Jianhong and calls for his immediate and unconditional release on humanitarian grounds. Zhang has been diagnosed with a rare nerve disorder that could lead to permanent paralysis if left untreated. His numerous appeals to judicial authorities in Zhejiang province seeking release on medical parole have been ignored, according to both his wife and lawyer.

Zhang, also known by his pen name, Li Hong, was arrested on September 6, 2006, just days after posting an essay online about China’s human rights record and, in particular, the poor treatment of journalists and their sources in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic games. In March 2007, the Ningbo Intermediate People’s Court, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, convicted him of “inciting subversion of state authority” and sentenced him to a six-year jail term followed by one year’s deprivation of political rights. Zhang, founding editor of the popular news and literary Web site Aiqinhai (“Aegean Sea”) and a contributor to numerous other Chinese-language Web sites published from overseas, was accused of writing 60 articles that “slandered the government and China’s social system to vent his discontent with the government.”

Zhang was diagnosed on May 30 with a rare nerve disorder affecting his upper extremities, according to a letter he sent to his lawyer. Zhang wrote that the condition had deteriorated since being incarcerated. “The muscles of both my arms have seriously shrunk. As a result, they have lost the ability to function (even worse for the right hand),” he wrote, as translated by the Epoch Times Web site. “The symptoms are also spreading to my legs. They feel numb and weak, as if stepping on cotton. If this continues, I fear I will soon have to face the cruel situation of being completely paralyzed…”

Zhang’s lawyer, Li Jianqiang, told CPJ that he received the letter on August 3, though it was dated June 11. It was the last time he heard from his client.

Zhang’s wife, Dong Min, told CPJ that she has been barred from contacting her husband since June 26, when he was transferred from the Chenghu Prison, in Huzhou City, Zhejiang, to a detention center in Ningbo, also in Zhejiang province. Zhang is believed to be held currently at the Ningbo detention center, however neither his wife nor his lawyer have been able to visit or speak to him there.

As an international organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, CPJ requests that you to use your good offices to ensure Zhang’s immediate release on humanitarian grounds. We respectfully remind you that your government is responsible for his welfare and must ensure that he receives the urgent medical attention he requires.

CPJ believes that Zhang should never have been jailed in the first place, as the use of national security charges to inhibit the peaceful expression of political views contravenes the international standards set forth by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has signed but not yet ratified. Your government signed the Covenant in October 1998, less than two months before Beijing announced its plan to bid for the 2008 Olympic Games, in an apparent attempt to address international concerns about China’s human rights record.

Article 19 of the Covenant guarantees all people the right to freedom of expression, including “freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers.” Yet China persists in its attempts to restrict the free flow of information and ideas, through outright censorship, bureaucratic media restrictions, and by jailing journalists perceived as critics of the government.

On August 15, official news outlets announced a new campaign to tighten control over the domestic media, ostensibly aimed at “false news reports, unauthorized publications, and bogus journalists” but actually casting a much wider net, including “newspapers and magazines illegally published in China using overseas registration … newspapers and magazines imported from overseas without authorization, illegal foreign language newspapers aimed at foreigners living in China, illegal political newspapers and magazines that fabricate political rumors … and illegal military newspapers and magazines that leak state secrets,” according to Liu Binjie, director of the General Administration of Press and Publication, as reported by The Associated Press.

China also holds the world record as the leading jailer of journalists, with 29 currently imprisoned, according to CPJ research. This dubious distinction does great damage to China’s reputation as the country seeks to improve its image one year before the Beijing Olympics.

CPJ calls for the release of all journalists currently imprisoned in China. Freeing Zhang on humanitarian grounds would be a first step toward improving China’s record at this critical juncture.

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


Joel Simon
Executive Director