CPJ urges Bush to raise concern about jailed Chinese journalists

August 6, 2008

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

By facsimile: 202-456-2461

Dear President Bush,

We are heartened to hear that on Thursday, before embarking for Beijing to attend the Olympic opening ceremony, you will deliver a speech in Bangkok reiterating U.S. commitment to press freedom and other human rights. The Associated Press, which reported on the prepared text of your speech, also said that you are expected to raise these issues with China’s leaders once you arrive in Beijing.

CPJ, an independent press freedom organization based in New York, would ask you to keep in mind that China has been the world’s leading jailer of journalists since 1999. CPJ has documented the cases of 26 journalists currently imprisoned in China. This record runs contrary to the Chinese government’s commitment to media freedom as clearly expressed in its 2001 bid to host the Olympics.

Recent news reports have highlighted concerns that international journalists face limited Internet access and other restrictions on their reporting. Those concerns are indeed serious, as CPJ has noted in its public statements, but we also wish to highlight the grave and ongoing restrictions that confront Chinese journalists. CPJ fears that after you and other Olympic visitors leave Beijing later this summer, censorship and draconian punishment for local journalists will remain the norm in China, despite the International Olympic Committee’s hopes for a lasting legacy of improved freedom of expression.

The 26 cases of imprisoned journalists documented by CPJ have many common elements: Eighteen of these journalists are jailed for their online work, and 20 are being held on vague antistate charges such as subversion. In case after case, authorities have punished reporters for exploring issues that might challenge government officials and public policy. One trend stands apart: Two-thirds of these journalists were imprisoned after China made its 2001 Olympic promise of complete media freedom.

We’d like to draw your attention to two cases in particular:

  • Shi Tao, former editorial director of the Changsha-based newspaper Dangdai Shang Bao, was detained in November 2004 in Taiyuan, Shanxi province. He was charged with “providing state secrets to foreigners” by sending an e-mail to the editor of a U.S.-based pro-democracy Web site. The e-mail described the local propaganda department’s instructions on how to cover the anniversary of the military crackdown on demonstrators at Tiananmen Square. For this, he received a 10-year prison term in April 2005.

  • Hu Jia was jailed in December 2007 and charged with “incitement to subvert state power” based on six online commentaries and two interviews with foreign media in which he criticized the Communist Party. A prominent human rights activist, Hu had advocated for AIDS patients, defended the rights of farmers, and promoted environmental protection. His writings, which appeared on his blog, criticized the Communist Party’s human rights record, called for democratic reform, and condemned government corruption. In April, he was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

We urge you to call for the release of these men and their colleagues behind bars in your discussions with China’s leaders, and to press those leaders on their obligation, as Olympic hosts, to respect and honor the ethical values that have always inspired and supported the Games. Thank you for your attention.


Joel Simon
Executive Director