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China 10 July 2006

European Parliament president urged to raise cases of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents on visit to China


Reporters Without Borders wrote to European Parliament president Josep Borrell urging him to raise the cases of three imprisoned Chinese cyber-dissidents during a seven-day visit to China, thereby showing that the resolution about online free expression passed by the European Parliament will be followed up by concrete action.

“We ask that, during your meetings with the Chinese authorities, you intercede on behalf of Hao Wu, Shi Tao and Yang Zili, three people who have been accused of posting ‘illegal’ information on the Internet,” the organisation said in its letter.

“We are convinced that you will not be unmoved by the cases of these three journalists and cyber-dissidents who were imprisoned just for wanting to put out information,” the letter continued. “We are aware that important economic matters will be on the agenda of this official visit, but we hope the EU will also use this direct dialogue with the Chinese authorities to stress its determination to defend free expression and mention these cases by name.”

Hao was arrested in Beijing on 22 February after attending an underground Protestant church meeting as part of his preparations for a documentary film. He had lived for more than 10 years in the United States and had a blog called Beijing or Bust. He was also a correspondent for Global Voices, a bloggers group that belongs to the network of Reporters Without Borders partner organisations.

The authorities still have not said what Hao is charged with, and he may have been arrested in order to get him to provide information about the members of this underground Protestant church. His family has received virtually no news about him since his arrest and the authorities have still not allowed a lawyer to act on his behalf.

Arrested on 24 November 2004, Shi was sentenced on 20 April 2005 to 10 years in prison for “illegally divulging state secrets abroad” because he took the text of an official memo that had been sent to his newspaper, Dangdai Shang Bao (Contemporary Business News), and posted it on foreign websites. The memo warned journalists of the dangers of social destabilisation on the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Shi is currently held in Prison No. 1 in the south-central province of Hunan, which is located on a small island near the city of Yuanjiang. He shares a cell with more than 10 other inmates and makes jewellery in a workshop of poor sanitary standards.

Yang, a computer specialist and founder of the website, was arrested on 20 April 2001. He wrote many articles for his website advocating political liberalism, criticising the government’s crackdown on the Falungong spiritual movement and deploring the problems faced by the peasantry.

He also posted articles written by other members of the New Youth Society, an underground discussion group to which he belonged that met once a week to discuss political reform. Charged with “subverting state authority,” he was sentenced on 28 May 2003 to eight years in prison by the Beijing intermediate court. The sentence was confirmed on appeal on 10 November 2003. His family has not been allowed to see him since his arrest.

“We point out that 51 cyber-dissidents and 32 journalists are currently imprisoned in China, where the press freedom situation in both the traditional media and on the Internet has declined sharply in the past year,” the letter said.

“More and more websites are blocked inside China and, thanks to the deployment of considerable financial, human and technological resources, the filtering of online news and information is becoming steadily more effective,” the letter continued. “We therefore hope you will follow the recommendations in the resolution passed yesterday by the European Parliament and will be ready to argue for online free expression with the Chinese authorities.”

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