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

Press Release from St Antony's College, Oxford

(St Antony's College, Oxford, February 19th 2002) - In response to the considerable anxiety raised by the case of Dr Xu Zerong, an open letter has been addressed to President Jiang Zemin. Some 340 academics, public servants, business people, and journalists from around the world who have specialized on China or worked with Chinese colleagues have signed this letter so far. It has been delivered today, February 19th, to the Chinese Ambassador to London, His Excellency, Mr Ma Zhengang, with a request that it be forwarded to President Jiang.

The concern about the case relates particularly to the length of time that Dr Xu was held in detention before trial, his isolation during incarceration, the severity of the sentence imposed on him, and the issues of academic freedom involved.

Dr Xu Zerong, a student of St Antony's College from 1989 to 1999, and a respected specialist on China's foreign relations, was sentenced by the Shenzhen Intermediate People's Court in southern China on January 10th 2002 to 13 years in prison. In a letter dated February 11th, Ambassador Ma informed Sir Marrack Goulding, the Warden of St Antony's College where Dr Xu took his Oxford degrees, that two official charges had been levied against him. The first was that in 1992 he obtained confidential government documents, made photocopies of them, and gave them to sources outside China, thereby endangering China's security. For this, he had received a sentence of ten years. The second charge had related to the "illegal publication of more than 60,000 books and periodicals" since 1993, and the sale of book authorization numbers from which it was alleged that he had derived a total profit of approximately 28,000 (RMB 330,000). For this activity he had been given a further three years. He had also been fined about 4,000 (RMB 50,000).

The prison sentences described by Ambassador Ma are extremely harsh and have aroused great concern amongst the wider international community of scholars and others working on China. Subsequent press reports of the trial published in Hong Kong and by western news services have indicated that the documents obtained by Dr Xu were those he used for purposes of academic research, including his scholarly publications. 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 both of a scholar's right to receive and impart information regardless of frontiers and of the right to freedom of research and creative activity.

St Antony's College learnt only in April 2001 that Dr Xu had been in detention since June 2000. Its Warden took the matter up with the Chinese Ambassador, but in all their subsequent contacts reference was made only to Dr Xu's allegedly illegal publishing activities. It was not until Ambassador Ma's letter of February 11th 2002 that the College received an account of all the charges he faced, including the more serious one for which he has been sentenced to ten years in prison.

The severity of the sentences and the length of time in which Dr Xu has been in custody - for much and probably all of that period without visitors or correspondence - have prompted the decision to address an open letter to President Jiang. In that letter, a world-wide group of scholars and others interested in China have requested that China's President look into the case of Dr Xu and bring about his early release. He is also urged to affirm his government's commitment to promoting and protecting academic freedom and human rights in China and thus providing a secure basis for the continuation of scholarly exchanges between China and other countries.

[further background information concerning Dr Xu is given below]

Further information concerning Dr Xu Zerong - (anglicised name, Dr David Tsui)

Born: January 14th 1954

Degrees completed at Oxford: M.Phil International Relations (1991). M.Phil thesis title: "China's Decision to Enter the Korean War: Motivations and Objectives" D.Phil International Relations (1999) D. Phil thesis title: "Chinese Military Intervention in the Korean War".

College affiliation: St Antony's College, Oxford.

Citizenship: Chinese, born in Sichuan province and citizen of Hong Kong

Position held at time of arrest: Affiliated Professor at Zhongshan University in Guangzhou and Associate Research Professor of the Provincial Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences.

Dr Xu's arrest: St Antony's College first heard in April 2001 about Dr Xu's earlier arrest in China. The news came out at the same time as publicity was being given to the arrest of various Chinese scholars with American citizenship or residency. A group at Oxford, including the head of his College, teachers and examiners, promptly wrote to the Chinese Ambassador to London expressing concern about his long arrest without charge or trial, and requesting information about his current circumstances. In a reply in May, we were informed that Dr Xu had been detained for investigation on June 24th 2000 and had been arrested on July 25th 2000. The Ambassador's letter stated that Dr Xu had confessed to illegal publication of books and periodicals and the sale of book authorization numbers since 1993. This is presumably the "economic crime" mentioned in the press reports that appeared after the subsequent trial.

Subsequent action: On May 23rd 2001, the Warden of St Antony's wrote again to the Ambassador requesting that one of the signatories to the original letter from Oxford - preferably one of Dr Xu's former teachers - be allowed to visit him. This request was repeated on July 10th 2001. As there were no replies to these letters, the Warden sought a meeting with the Ambassador and this was held on January 10th 2002. Unbeknown to the College, this was the same day that Dr Xu was facing trial in China. The Warden reminded the Ambassador of our continuing wish to visit Dr Xu, but was informed that Chinese law did not permit such contact.

Press reports of his trial and sentencing reached the College in early February and a press statement was released (February 5th) outlining the facts of the case at that time. On February 11th, the Ambassador, in reply to a letter written by the Warden, provided official confirmation of the charges and sentences that had been imposed on Dr Xu.

After news of the trial and sentencing emerged, many academics and others around the world suggested that there should be an open letter to the Chinese President, Jiang Zemin, and that signatures should be obtained from academics, journalists, public servants and business people from different countries who have specialized on China or worked with Chinese colleagues. Those concerned with the matter at St Antony's then helped to draft the open letter, which, with its list of signatories, is being released today. Those on this authenticated list are signing in an individual capacity (apart from the student body at St Antony's), and no endorsement by their affiliated institution or employer is implied. The letter appeals to President Jiang to look into Dr Xu's case, and to bring about his early release. It also urges the Chinese government to affirm its commitment to academic freedom and human rights.


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