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Canada must prioritise free expression rights in relationship with China

31 IFEX members jointly call on Prime Minister Trudeau to ensure that human rights are not cast aside in pursuit of trade relations and currying favour with China. You can add your voice using the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression's letter-writing tool here.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (R) shakes hands with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, September 22, 2016.
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (R) shakes hands with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, September 22, 2016.

REUTERS/Chris Watte

Dear Prime Minister and Ministers,

We, the undersigned organizations and supporters, call on the Canadian government to put human rights, especially free expression and press freedom, at the heart of the “renewed” Canada-China relationship.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang recently visited Canada for talks with Prime Minister Trudeau, during which an agreement was signed by the two countries to begin exploratory talks on a Free Trade Agreement. Discussions of a proposed extradition treaty also continued, which provoked swift outcry in Canada after its announcement on September 13.

China is one of the worst perpetrators of crimes that silence the voices of activists, journalists, artists and others who exercise their right to freedom of expression. The country's culture of impunity, where rights violations go unpunished, is systematic, endemic and ever growing. China has one of the highest numbers of imprisoned journalists in the world and is among the top ten most censored countries, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. It is ranked fourth worst—176th out of 179 countries—on Reporters Without Borders' 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

In light of China's atrocious human rights environment, simply acknowledging that China and Canada “have different systems of law and order,” as Prime Minister Trudeau did during his press conference with Premier Li, is not acceptable. The very nature of fundamental human rights is that they transcend national borders and apply to all humans equally, regardless of their citizenship.

Chinese officials frequently object when any criticism is made of their human rights record by foreign governments, insisting that the country has made “tremendous and universally recognized achievements in the protection and promotion of human rights.” Yet the sustained advancement of human rights depends upon a free press to disperse accurate information, expose corruption and wrongdoing, and give voice to the powerless. As long as the government of China can act with impunity and engage in broad crackdowns on dissent, kidnap Hong Kong booksellers for publishing books critical of Chinese leaders, repress Uyghur Muslims, punish lawyers who dare to defend dissidents, and intimidate diaspora journalists in Canada, China's human rights record will fall short.

Canada must not conveniently forget this in the name of increasing trade and currying favour with China. "Honest, regular engagement" with China must include an engagement with, and consideration for, the Chinese citizens who risk their lives and personal freedom to fight for liberties citizens in countries like Canada take for granted. We urge you to put human rights at the heart of the Canada-China relationship. Specifically, we ask that you raise with the Chinese government the cases of the 49 journalists imprisoned simply for carrying out their professional duties, and to call for their immediate release. We also ask that you urge China to explicitly prioritize journalists' safety in all interactions with law enforcement and security forces.

We thank you for your attention and look forward to your reply.

Signed,

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Afghanistan Journalists Center
Albanian Media Institute
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
ARTICLE 19
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Committee to Protect Journalists
Freedom Forum
Free Media Movement
I'lam Arab Center for Media Freedom Development and Research
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
Index on Censorship
Institute for Media and Society
Instituto de Prensa y Libertad de Expresión - IPLEX
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
International Press Institute
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Watch
OpenMedia
Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF)
Pacific Islands News Association
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA
PEN American Center
PEN Canada
PEN International
Reporters Without Borders
South East European Network for Professionalization of Media
Vigilance pour la Démocratie et l’État Civique

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