(New York) - In an open letter to President Clinton, the Human Rights Watch Academic Freedom Committee calls on the President to speak out forcefully in support of both academic and political freedom during his planned visits to university campuses in China.

During his upcoming state visit, the President is scheduled to appear in a welcoming ceremony at Tiananmen Square and to deliver a major speech at Beijing University. Emphasizing that the President's presence at such locations will have "immense symbolic importance" for democracy advocates throughout China, the letter urges the President to seize the opportunity by publicly stressing the inseparable link between intellectual and political freedom, and by drawing attention to cases of Chinese academics currently in jail for expressing their views.

The letter was signed on behalf of the committee by Fang Lizhi, internationally prominent Chinese astrophysicist and dissident who now teaches in exile at the University of Arizona and who, in 1989, was first on the Chinese Ministry of Public Security's most wanted list, and by Jonathan Fanton, President of the New School for Social Research.

Countless Chinese scholars and students have lost their lives or seen their careers destroyed for their defense of democratic principles at Beijing University, from the student-led May 4 Movement of 1919 to the pro-democracy movement that ended with the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. "What President Clinton chooses to say during his Beijing University address will be an important test of whether `engagement' has any human rights underpinnings," said Human Rights Watch academic freedom specialist Joseph Saunders. "If you can't say what you believe on campus, where can you?" he added.

A copy of the letter is available here