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Open Letter to President Jiang Zemin on behalf of imprisoned scholar, Dr Xu Zerong

His Excellency Mr Jiang Zemin
President of the People's Republic of China

19 February 2002

Dear Mr President,

We the undersigned are academics, journalists, public servants and business people from different countries who have specialised on China or worked with Chinese colleagues. We are writing to you about the recent sentencing of Dr Xu Zerong to 13 years in prison, a sentence of such severity that it has caused us grave concern.

Dr Xu is a respected scholar of Chinese foreign relations who, at the time of his detention on 24th June 2000, worked at Zhongshan University and the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences. He is also a graduate of St Antony's College, University of Oxford, where he earned a doctoral degree in 1999.

According to information that we have received, at a trial held in Shenzhen in January 2002 he was sentenced to three years in respect of charges of economic crimes and ten years on charges of leaking state secrets. It appears that the first set of charges related to the allegedly illegal publication of books and periodicals and the sale of book authorization numbers since 1993, and the second set of charges, for which Dr Xu was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment, related to his use of information gathered in the course of his research into the Korean War (1950-1953), including Chinese analysis of American and South Korean capabilities, and documents explaining the Chinese People's Volunteers' involvement in that conflict.

If Dr Xu's use of historical data was indeed the main basis for finding him guilty of leaking state secrets, this would amount to violation of a scholar's right to receive and impart information regardless of frontiers and of the right to freedom of research and creative activity. These rights are guaranteed in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Many of the signatories of this letter are academics who regularly engage in research into governmental decision-making. We cannot accept that analysis of the military policies of any country half a century ago constitutes the leaking of state secrets, and we seek assurance that those working on such topics in relation to China can continue their work without fear of legal or other form of retribution.

We are also deeply concerned about the conditions under which Dr Xu has been held since June 2000. During the eighteen months before he was brought to trial, he was apparently allowed no visitors or correspondence. Requests that one of his Oxford teachers be given permission to visit him were denied. The information available to us thus raises the questions of whether Dr Xu's human rights have been respected and whether his detention and trial have been in conformity with those human rights covenants that China has signed or ratified.

We accordingly urge you, Mr President, to look into the case of Dr Xu and to bring about his early release. We also urge your government to affirm its commitment to promoting and protecting academic freedom and human rights in China and thus provide a secure basis for the continuation of scholarly exchanges between your country and those to which we belong.

Yours faithfully,


Letter to Jiang Zemin

Leading Academics Protest Detentions
HRW Press Release

Other Petitions and Letters

Biographies of the Detained Scholars

Press Conference Co-sponsors

Press Conference Speakers

HRW Academic Freedom Program

China: Human Rights Deteriorate
HRW Special Focus


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