Statement of the Chairman and Cochairman on Political Imprisonment in China Today

Congressional-Executive Commission on China |

Statement of the Chairman and Cochairman on Political Imprisonment in China Today

August 19, 2010

(Washington, DC)—Recent trials of Webmasters, professors, writers, lawyers, and even a geologist in China who is a U.S. citizen have heightened concern that the Chinese government increasingly is using detention and imprisonment to stifle dissent or to advance government objectives, at the expense of human rights. For example, in July, Dr. Xue Feng, an American geologist, was sentenced to eight years in prison for helping a U.S. company purchase commercial information on oil wells in China. Gheyret Niyaz, a Uyghur journalist and the editor of a popular Web site was sentenced to 15 years in prison for apparently giving an interview to the foreign media after the July 2009 demonstrations and riots in Xinjiang and for essays critical of some Chinese government policies in Xinjiang. In addition, Nijat Azat, Dilshat Perhat, and Nureli, have been sentenced to prison in connection to their roles as administrators of three popular Uyghur Web sites.

The threat of political imprisonment affects the work of people and organizations who are engaged in human rights advocacy or who are involved in commercial activity in China, including U.S. citizens. The chilling effects of political imprisonment result in lost opportunities for the Chinese government to make progress on and for Chinese citizens to enjoy the development of human rights and the rule of law.

We note in particular two alarming trends. First, the Internet appears to have spawned a new class of political prisoners in China. Chinese citizens are going to jail for posting essays online critical of the government or for trying to organize political opposition online. Many citizens who criticize the government on blogs and comment boards go unpunished—at most their comment is deleted. But individuals with a track record of human rights advocacy, political activism, grass roots organizing or opposition to the Communist Party are being targeted systematically. The most common charges against these citizens are the crime of subversion, which carries a sentence of up to life imprisonment, and inciting subversion, which carries a sentence of up to 15 years. Individuals are imprisoned on these charges for doing nothing more than criticizing the Communist Party, without any advocacy of violence.

The second trend is the government's harsh crackdown on lawyers and human rights defenders. Over the last two years, several lawyers who represent human rights advocates—including house church members, HIV/AIDS activists, Falun Gong practitioners, and Tibetan and Uyghurs—have been harassed and abused by the government because of their clients and the causes they represent.

Among the most outrageous and cruel examples of abuse by the government is the disappearance of Gao Zhisheng. One of China's greatest human rights lawyers, Mr. Gao endured jail and torture because of his fearless advocacy and commitment to speak the truth as he knew it. Last year, he was then abducted from his home by security agents after his wife and two children left China to seek asylum in the United States.

We now know that for more than a year, security agents moved him from one place to another, and subjected him to psychological and physical abuse. After this Commission and the international community pressed his case, Mr. Gao mysteriously reappeared for two weeks this past Spring. He gave a few interviews, and then security agents abducted him again. His forced "disappearance" by the state reveals a complete disregard for individual rights and the rule of law.

Mr. Gao's photograph and a detailed record of his case can be found in the Commission's newly enhanced political prisoner database. At this time, the Commission's Political Prisoner Database contains about 5,500 records of political prisoners in China. The Commission believes that to promote the rule of law in China, it is vital to publicize and seek the release of these people. It was international pressure that played a critical role in securing the freedom of Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa, Kim Daejong, and many others who helped lead their countries to greater social justice. Today's imprisoned dissidents are the leading figures of tomorrow's societies built on greater respect for fundamental rights.

China has experienced success on many fronts, including health and education, and the Chinese people justifiably are proud of their successes. But the Chinese government now must lead in protecting the human rights of its people and the integrity of its legal and political institutions with no less skill and commitment than it displayed in opening the doors that allowed the industriousness and entrepreneurial spirit of the Chinese people to lift millions out of poverty. Most importantly, it must open the bars of its jail cells and free its political prisoners, among whom are some of the country's most brilliant and socially-committed citizens, including Liu Xiaobo, Hu Jia, Chen Guangcheng, and many others named in this Commission’s newly-enhanced Political Prisoner Database and in its Annual Reports.