Olympics: CPJ urges Bush to highlight jailed journalists

CPJ wrote an open letter to President Bush today, calling on him to raise the issue of China’s jailed journalists when he gets to Beijing. We put the current number of journalists behind bars at 26, which makes China the largest jailer of journalists in the world, the dubious distinction it has held since 1999. In our letter to Bush we specifically mention two jailed journalists by name–Hu Jia and Shi Tao–but you can find details on all of the cases in Falling Short, our pre-Olympics report on media conditions in China.

Overall, China has maintained its policy of jailing critical voices without noticeable change since Beijing was awarded the Olympic Games in 2001. The ugly part of the story is that two-thirds of the 26 journalists behind bars have been put there since 2001. That seems particularly egregious since the only specific human rights-related promise China made when it bid for the Games was “There will be no restrictions on journalists in reporting on the Olympic Games.”    

Below are capsule reports on Shi and Hu.

Shi Tao, freelance
IMPRISONED: November 24, 2004

Shi, the former editorial director at the Changsha-based newspaper Dangdai Shang Bao, was detained near his home in Taiyuan, Shanxi province.

He was formally arrested and charged with “providing state secrets to foreigners” by sending an e-mail on his Yahoo account to the U.S.-based editor of the Web site Minzhu Luntan (Democracy Forum). In the anonymous e-mail sent several months before his arrest, Shi transcribed his notes from local propaganda department instructions to his newspaper, which included directives on coverage of the Falun Gong and the upcoming 15th anniversary of the military crackdown on demonstrators at Tiananmen Square. The official Xinhua News Agency reported that the National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets later certified the contents of the e-mail as classified.

On April 27, 2005, the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court found Shi guilty and sentenced him to a 10-year prison term. In June of that year, Hunan Province High People’s Court rejected his appeal without granting a hearing.

Court documents in the case revealed that Yahoo had supplied information to Chinese authorities that helped them identify Shi as the sender of the e-mail. Yahoo’s participation in the identification of Shi and other jailed Internet writers and dissidents in China raised questions about the role that international Internet companies are playing in the repression of online speech in China and elsewhere.

In November 2005, CPJ honored Shi in absentia with its annual International Press Freedom Award for his courage in defending the ideals of free expression. During a visit to CPJ’s offices in New York in June 2007, Shi’s mother, Gao Qinsheng, highlighted the 2008 Beijing Olympics as an opportunity for the international community to renew calls for her son’s release. In November of that year, members of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee rebuked Yahoo executives for their role in the case and for wrongly testifying in earlier hearings that the company did not know the Chinese government’s intentions when it sought Shi’s account information.


Hu Jia, freelance
IMPRISONED: December 27, 2007

Hu, 34, was 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. On April 3, 2008, he was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

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. Hu’s wife, human rights activist Zeng Jinyan, and infant daughter have been confined to their home under police surveillance, according to news reports.

(Reporting from Hong Kong)