5 June 1998
WPFC sends letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton in regard to state of press freedom in China
(WPFC/IFEX) - In advance of his state visit to the People's Republic of
China in late June, the World Press Freedom Committee sent a letter to U.S.
President Bill Clinton expressing concern at the deteriorating state of
press freedom in China as well as at the continued detention of over two
dozen writers and journalists, including Gao Yu. The WPFC calls on President
Clinton to bring up the issue of their detention when he meets with Chinese
government officials and, specifically, to work for the release of Gao Yu.
The following is the full text of that letter:
May 27, 1998
William J. Clinton
The White House
Dear President Clinton:
As you prepare for your trip to China at the end of June, I hope you will
put on your agenda a strong protest to each Chinese Communist leader you
meet about the imprisonment of dissidents who support democracy and basic
human rights in China, and particularly the at least 26 men and women
political prisoners in Chinese jails who are journalists and writers. Here
are three examples:
Liu Xiaobo -- Three years in a labor camp for circulating a petition calling
for freedom of speech.
Sun Weibang -- 12 years in prison for talking in the street to an undercover
policeman about the need for a multi-party system in China.
Wu Shishen -- Life imprisonment for obtaining and providing an advance copy
of a speech by President Jiang Zemin.
The most important of the jailed journalists is Gao Yu. Her case is
particularly symbolic of the Chinese Communist crackdown on any free speech,
particularly when it argues for freedom and democracy. Gao Yu is considered
the first person arrested at Tiananmen Square on June 3, 1989, the day
before the Chinese Army put a bloody end to the reform movement. She was
kept in prison, without formal charge, for 14 months until her release on
grounds of ill health in August 1990.
Ms. Gao, a journalist for more than 20 years with the China News Service and
then as Deputy Editor of Economics Weekly, was arrested again in October
1993, two days before she was to travel to New York to start a journalism
fellowship at Columbia University. She was held incommunicado for several
months, then tried in a closed court in April 1994 for "leaking important
state secrets." On November 10, 1994, after a series of unfair judicial
proceedings, without counsel or family present, she was sentenced to six
years imprisonment. Today, Gao Yu has been in prison for more than three
and a half years. She is held in a cell with a dozen common criminals and
is in ill health. In January 1997 the Chinese Communist rejected her appeal
for bail on medical grounds. But she has regularly been promised proper
medical treatment and early release if she signs a confession. So far she
has refused this cruel offer and maintains her innocence of any wrongdoing.
On May 3, 1997 in Bilbao, Spain, Gao Yu was awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo
CANO World Press Freedom prize. The Chinese foreign ministry threatened to
quit UNESCO because this prize was given to a brave woman journalist held in
a Chinese Communist jail for no good reason.
I strongly urge you to raise the issue of Gao Yu with Chinese Communist
leaders with the hope that you will be as successful in freeing her as you
were in freeing Wei Jing Sheng, the leading Democracy Wall dissident who
spent 18 years in Chinese Communist jails, and who you successfully
convinced the Chinese government to release after the visit of Jiang Zemin
to Washington last fall. Gao Yu should be the target of your next efforts to
free a Chinese dissident who believes in free speech and a free press.
I wish you good luck on your trip to China. Thank you for continuing to pay
attention to the plight of dissident thinkers and writers in Chinese
Communist jails. I hope youâll not sacrifice their freedom to the
commercial interests of American companies who want to do more business in
China, and who pressure you not to raise human rights issues.
Jim Ottaway, Jr.