Reporters Without Borders is disturbed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments about human rights in China. We regret that Secretary Clinton, who adopted firm and courageous positions on the subject in the past, has abandoned her commitment to defend free expression so quickly. Saying human rights will not be at the centre of her conversations with the Chinese authorities is tantamount to saying she is powerless, when in fact US pressure has on many occasions helped to get Chinese prisoners of conscience freed.
We say that human rights, including press freedom, are right at the heart of the global issues Secretary Clinton hopes to tackle with the Chinese authorities. How can you resolve the environmental crisis if the Chinese media are not free to cover pollution stories? How can you
emerge from the financial crisis if the Chinese media are not as free as they would like to discuss the yuan’s under-evaluation?
One of the effects of her comments has been to remove a source of pressure that might have dissuaded the Chinese police from reinforcing controls on certain free speech activists. For example, Zeng Jinyan, the wife of imprisoned dissident Hu Jia, was forbidden to leave her
home in Beijing today. “I am currently under house arrest because Hillary Clinton has arrived,” she told Agence France-Presse on 21 February. She had planned to visit Gao Yaojie, a campaigner on HIV/AIDS issues, before Gao met Clinton.
Zhang Zuhua, a Beijing-based intellectual who signed the Charter 08 manifesto calling for democratic reforms, did not manage to leave his home during Clinton’s visit. Several police officers posted outside his home told him he would not be able to go out or receive visits during the next few days.
Jiang Qisheng, a pro-democracy activist and Charter 08 signatory, was also placed under house arrest on the morning of 20 February. The police told him not to try to meet Clinton and said he would have to travel in police vehicles if he needed to go anywhere.
Another Charter 08 signatory, writer Yu Jie, was also monitored by plain-clothes policemen, while a police car was stationed outside his home. Several other Charter 08 signatories were harassed by the police and prevented from leaving their homes.
Reporters Without Borders urges Secretary Clinton to demonstrate, during her visit to China, that the Obama administration has put human rights and freedoms at the centre of its foreign policy.
Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International USA wrote a letter to Secretary Clinton before her travel to China.