A shout for freedom of speech

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A shout for freedom of speech

Calls for China to release Liu Xiaobo, a dissident recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and allow greater freedom of speech are getting louder.

A group of senior Chinese scholars, journalists, writers and lawyers issued a public letter demanding the government release Liu Xiaobo and uphold domestic and international conventions ensuring the basic human right of freedom of speech.

Earlier, a group of 23 elderly party members also published a public letter protesting against censorship and violations of freedom of speech. “Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution revised in 1982 guarantees freedom of the press, publication, assembly and association, but has been completely ignored for the last 28 years,” the letter said. It criticized the domestic press for propagandist puppeteering for the ruling Communist Party.

The letter, whose signatories included Mao Zedong’s former secretary Li Rui and former People’s Daily editor-in-chief Hu Jiwei, was submitted to the Communist Party’s standing committee ahead of the annual meeting in Beijing to discuss the country’s future direction.

The letter denouncing the “invisible black hand” of censorship drew 476 signatures the first day it was posted on the Internet. In a meaningful step toward breaking down a draconian political system, central and local newspapers all carried front-page coverage and editorials expressing support for Prime Minister Wen’s candid call for political reform.

According to Freedom House, the only countries as restrictive and repressive of freedom of speech apart from China are North Korea and Myanmar. Beijing extensively and tightly controls its media, blocking critical comments against the government or references to ethnic groups’ rights, Taiwan or human rights.

The Communist regime implements strict media coverage guidelines and at least 36 journalists and 68 Internet commentators are in custody. Chinese netizens number 360 million. It is impossible to watch and clamp down on every one of them. Freedom of the press and speech is the first step toward any form of democratic society.

A single-party system and press freedom do not mix. The society cannot sustain the fragile balancing act between a free market and draconian political system. As the Communist Party’s National People’s Congress convenes its annual meeting, we hope the leadership will seriously address the political reform issue.
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