CPJ presses Human Rights Council on China

February 6, 2009

Carl Bildt, Minister for Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Canada Per Stig Moeller, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Denmark 
Jonas Gahr Stoere, Minister of Foreign Affairs Norway
David Miliband, Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, U.K.
By facsimile

Dear sirs,

On Monday, your representatives will participate in the U.N. Human Rights Council’s first review of China’s human rights record. As part of the review, countries are required to submit their questions in advance, and CPJ welcomes your questioning of China’s press freedom record.

As countries with a deep commitment to freedom of expression and human rights, we urge you to ensure that China responds to the specific issues outlined in this letter. We have grave concerns that they will not be adequately emphasized.

Restrictions on journalists

January 2007 regulations that eased restrictions for foreign journalists reporting in China during the Olympics were permanently extended in October 2008. Granting reporters the legal right to do their work is a positive step, as is the investment in media infrastructure which China outlines in its national report to the review working group.

Yet review participants should ask China how the regulations can be implemented throughout China. Colleagues there tell us they are frequently subject to harassment by local authorities and cannot enter the Tibetan Autonomous Region without permission. The working group should also ask China to extend legal protections to local journalists, who self-censor because they lack equivalent freedoms, as well as to sources who agree to interviews with foreign journalists.

Internet censorship

China‘s laws allow the government to block or hide politically sensitive information on international Web sites, including news outlets such as the BBC and advocacy organizations like CPJ.

Controls on local Web sites appeared to tighten in 2009. A government campaign targeting vulgarity online launched on January 5 has broadened the conception of “unacceptable” content in a way that also threatens free expression. City authorities in Beijing shut down blog-hosting site Bullog on January 12, according to local and international news reports. The site, popular among intellectuals and political commentators, had failed to remove “harmful” information, according to the reports.

China must revise Internet legislation before it is in compliance with international human rights standards.


CPJ has the following specific recommendations China should adopt to improve its press freedom record:

  • Release journalists imprisoned for their work.

China has consistently jailed more journalists than any other country for the past decade. CPJ research shows that at least 28 journalists and Internet users who publish news and opinion online were incarcerated in China as of December 1, 2008.

  • Define anti-state charges, such as possessing state secrets or inciting subversion, to limit their retributive use against journalists and online critics.

Web site publisher Huang Qi was charged with possessing state secrets on February 2 after disseminating news about earthquake relief efforts in Sichuan on his Web site, according to international news reports. He still suffers from poor health induced by an earlier five-year jail term that he served for publishing allegedly subversive articles on the site.

  • Protect lawyers who defend free expression.

Imprisoned journalist Zheng Yichun has lacked legal counsel since his lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, also came under suspicion for subversion based on online articles. Gao, who has been detained several times and accuses security officials of torturing him while in their custody, was taken by security forces again for two weeks in 2009 before his release on February 3, according to overseas human rights groups. The reason for that detention is not clear. 

  • Independently investigate allegations of torture.

Yang Maodong, imprisoned since 2006 for illegally publishing a magazine which reported on a high-profile graft case, has staged hunger strikes to protest physical abuse at the hands of officials in a Guangdong prison, southern China, according to overseas rights groups.

  • Independently investigate violations of criminal procedure.

Prominent writer Liu Xiaobo was detained on December 8. Officials did not inform his wife of his detention within the designated 24-hour period and he is still missing, though charges have not been filed, according to international news reports. His lawyer told CPJ that security officials believe he drafted the unusually frank public call for political and legal reform known as “Charter 08,” which was published online on December 9, Liu was one of more than 300 people from a broad sector of society to sign the charter, which has continued to garner support since his detention.

  • Abolish government-issue journalist permits.

Journalist Jiang Weiping wrote about a corruption scandal for a Hong Kong magazine in 2000, but will never work as a journalist in China again. He was arrested and served six years for inciting subversion and state secrets charges prior to his release in 2006 and can no longer get a government-issue ID to work as a journalist. The three-year suspension of his political rights attached to his sentence barred him from leaving the country. He was able to obtain the assistance of the Canadian government early this year and left China for Canada on February 4, according to his wife, Stella Lee, who has lived there since 2004.

As China notes in its national report, press freedom guarantees are included in China’s constitution. But the existing legal framework and its application by Chinese officials prevents them from being effectively implemented. The Universal Periodic Review offers a unique opportunity to establish and hold China to specific steps for bringing its press freedom record in line with international norms. The Human Rights Council was created as an alternative to the widely discredited U.N. Commission on Human Rights. The only way for the council to be effective on issues such as press freedom in China is for countries like yours to openly confront China on its record. We are counting on you to do so.


Joel Simon
Executive Director



Yang Jiechi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China

Navanethem Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights

Frank William La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

 Marius Grinius, Permanent Representative of Canada to the to the United Nations Office at Geneva

Rajiv Kumar Chander, Permanent Representative of India to the to the United Nations Office at Geneva

Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi, Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva and President of the Human Rights Council for 2008-2009

American Society of Newspaper Editors

Amnesty International

Article 19 (United Kingdom)

Artikel 19 (The Netherlands)

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Freedom of Expression and Democracy Unit, UNESCO

Freedom Forum

Freedom House

Human Rights Watch

Index on Censorship

International Center for Journalists

International Federation of Journalists

International PEN

International Press Institute

Karen B. Stewart, Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Newspaper Guild

The North American Broadcasters Association

Overseas Press Club