In Letter to President Xi Jinping, CECC Commissioners Call for End to Crackdown

Congressional-Executive Commission on China
CECC Contact: 202–226–3766

February 27, 2014

(Washington, DC)--Nine members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China have issued a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping expressing serious concern over the worsening crackdown on Chinese citizens peacefully exercising their internationally recognized rights to freedoms of expression, association, assembly, and religion in China. They called on President Xi to end the crackdown and to release all Chinese citizens who have been unjustly imprisoned. The letter was signed by Commission Chairman Senator Sherrod Brown; Commission Cochairman Representative Christopher Smith; Senator Carl Levin; Representative Frank Wolf; Representative Mark Meadows; Representative Robert Pittenger; Representative Timothy Walz; Representative Marcy Kaptur; and Representative Michael Honda.

 A full text of the letter can be seen below:


February 21, 2014

His Excellency Xi Jinping

President of the People’s Republic of China

Dear President Xi:

We write as Members of the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China to express our serious concern over the worsening crackdown on individuals peacefully exercising their right to freedoms of expression, association, assembly, and religion in China. We believe the crackdown violates China’s obligations under international human rights standards and calls into question the Chinese government’s stated commitments to comply with international rules and to respect the rule of law.

The Commission has monitored the harassment, detention, and imprisonment of a growing number of Chinese citizens. These citizens, far from posing a threat to China’s national interests, have used peaceful means to support goals that they believe will help improve Chinese society, and in some cases which your own government has publicly backed. They have expressed concerns regarding policies toward ethnic minorities, and organized or participated in peaceful demonstrations on issues such as educational equality for the children of migrant workers, greater transparency of officials’ assets in order to combat widespread corruption, urging China to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and protesting censorship at one of China’s leading newspapers.

Among those targeted in the crackdown is the prominent legal advocate Xu Zhiyong, who was sentenced to four years in prison on January 26, 2014, for “gathering a crowd to disturb order in a public place.” Many others have been sentenced or await possible trial or sentencing on charges of “gathering a crowd to disturb order in a public place,” “illegal assembly,” “creating a disturbance,” or “inciting subversion of state power,” in connection with their peaceful attempts to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. These include the lawyer Ding Jiaxi; democracy advocates Zhang Lin, Li Huaping, Zhao Changqing, Huang Wenxun, Yuan Xiaohua, and Yuan Fengchu; the anti-corruption and transparency advocates Zhang Baocheng, Ma Xinli, Yuan Dong, Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping, Li Sihua, and Liu Jiacai; and the rights advocates Yang Maodong (also known as Guo Feixiong), Sun Desheng, and Liu Yuandong.

Other citizens, such as Cao Shunli, have been punished for seeking information about or asking to participate in the drafting process of China’s National Human Rights Report, which the Chinese government presented before the UN Human Rights Council at China’s Universal Periodic Review in October 2013.

While the Chinese government indicated during its Universal Periodic Review that it “attached great importance to developing the cause of human rights for ethnic minorities,” in practice your government continues to punish those who would protect the rights of ethnic minorities. In January 2014, security officials in Beijing detained Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, a professor at Minzu University and a peaceful and thoughtful proponent for the rights of the Uyghur ethnic minority who has sought to foster understanding between Uyghurs and China’s majority Han population. At around the same time, authorities also detained a number of young Uyghurs, including Mutellip Imin, Atikem Rozi, and Perhat Halmurat, who had been Mr. Tohti’s students or who had volunteered for the Web site he founded.

We have also observed continued harassment of Chinese citizens as they attempt to freely practice their faith. In one recent case, public security officials in Nanle county, Puyang city, Henan province, have sustained a months-long crackdown on a government-sanctioned Three-Self church, beginning with the detention of the church’s pastor Zhang Shaojie and at least 20 other members in November 2013. The crackdown has continued with blocked access to church meetings, harassment of other members in their homes, beatings of individuals advocating for the detained, and other forms of abuse.

In each case, the actions of Chinese officials have violated China’s obligations under international law and are inconsistent with China’s own Constitution and laws. Articles 18, 19, and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) provide for the rights to freedom of expression, religion, assembly, and association, obligations which China, as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council and a recently elected member of the UN Human Rights Council, has an especially important duty to uphold.

While the UDHR allows states to restrict these freedoms under narrow and limited circumstances, Chinese officials have far exceeded this exception. Relying on overly broad and vague criminal charges such as “gathering a crowd to disturb order in a public place” or “illegal assembly,” officials have targeted peaceful demonstrations and expression of views that it may disagree with but which do not appear to have threatened national security or disturbed public order. Indeed, the UN Human Rights Council has expressly stated that restrictions on “discussions of government policies and political debate” and “peaceful demonstrations or political activities, including for peace and democracy” conflict with the protections of Article 19. Furthermore, Articles 35, 36, and 41 of China’s Constitution provide citizens with the rights of free speech, religious belief, assembly, and association, as well as the right to criticize their government.

Equally troubling are reports of serious abuses that have occurred during officials’ handling of these cases—including reports of torture, the denial of access to legal counsel, inadequate time for defense counsel to review case files, the rejection of defense counsel requests to summon witnesses, the failure to follow Chinese legal guidance by separately trying defendants involved in the same alleged offenses thereby hampering their defense, and the closure of trials to the public. In all, the current crackdown is estimated to have swept up more than 150 rights advocates, journalists, and intellectuals, and coincided with a period of increased censorship of the Internet and news media.

Meanwhile, like-minded citizens who have pursued peaceful means in the past to encourage greater respect for human rights, democratic reform, and religious freedom in China remain in jail. These include the rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo. Gao, an advocate for religious minority groups, factory workers, and victims of land seizures, endured unspeakable acts of torture only to have his suspended three-year sentence revoked in December 2011. Liu is currently serving an 11-year sentence for his pro-democracy writings and his participation in Charter 08, a document calling for political reform and protection of human rights. Mr. Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, remains under isolating and increasingly traumatizing conditions of home confinement in Beijing despite not having been convicted of any crime and Chinese government representations that she is free. At last count, the Commission had documented the cases of more than 1,200 political or religious prisoners detained or imprisoned in China, including the democracy advocates Wang Bingzhang and Peng Ming, Tibetan advocate Lobsang Tsering, and Chen Kegui, the nephew of legal advocate Chen Guangcheng.

In your government’s National Human Rights Action Plan for 2012–2015, Chinese citizens are assured that they will enjoy rights to freedom of speech, freedom of information, freedom of religion, and a fair trial, and that the rights of ethnic minorities will be protected. We urge you to make good on these promises by ending the current crackdown and restoring freedom not only to those swept up in the crackdown, but to all Chinese citizens who have been unjustly imprisoned. China’s standing in the international community depends not only on its economic progress but on its protection of fundamental human rights.