European Parliament must speak out on China abuses

New York, April 6, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on members of the European Parliament to strongly criticize the Chinese government’s apparent detention of artist and social activist Ai Weiwei. The European Parliament is convening an emergency debate Thursday on Ai’s disappearance, which may be the latest unlawful detention in the government’s onslaught against its critics. 

Ai was stopped in Beijing airport while preparing to board a flight to Hong Kong on April 3 and has not been heard from since. Authorities have not confirmed that they are holding him, although police raided his home and studio later that day. The reason for the action is not clear, but Ai is among the most prominent of China’s government critics, and used his Twitter account to comment on injustice, including detentions of fellow activists.

CPJ also calls on parliament members to advocate for the release of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison for inciting subversion in December 2008. Liu, a longtime advocate for political reform in China, was imprisoned on the basis of articles published online, according to CPJ research. Liu also co-authored Charter 08, a document promoting universal values, human rights, and democratic reform in China, and was among its 300 original signatories. He was detained in Beijing shortly before the charter was officially released.

“Parliament should speak strongly to make clear that the sweeping crackdown on critics of the Beijing government is not acceptable,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Ai Weiwei and Liu Xiabao are only two victims among scores who have been rounded up in China’s increasing repression. Their release should mark the start of human rights reform in China, and the European Union should lead the way in pressing for it.”

The treatment of Ai and Liu is part of a wider crackdown that has targeted government critics and journalists. Dozens of democracy advocates and outspoken government detractors have been interrogated, detained, confined to their homes, or simply disappeared after an overseas Chinese website posted anonymous calls in mid-February for Chinese citizens to hold demonstrations inspired by unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

The European Union is scheduled to conduct a human rights dialogue with China in May. “We urge EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton to confront China’s officials about the detentions and the wider crackdown,” Dietz said.