Human Rights Watch denounced attempts by the Chinese government to silence Bao Tong, a former Communist Party official who has criticized the Chinese leadership.
On April 9, Bao Tong was visited at his home in Beijing by four officials of the Public Security Bureau (PSB). Their visit was a direct response to a letter Bao Tong had sent to President Jiang Zemin and other top leaders on March 25, 1999 calling for a reversal of the official verdict on the 1989 student demonstrations. The letter received widespread attention in the international press.
The PSB officials told him that his letter "endangered state security." The crime of "endangering state security" has been used against many critics of the government. Although the public security officials made it clear that their visit this time was only a warning and did not necessarily mean that Bao Tong was in imminent danger of arrest, it was clearly an effort to intimidate him.
"We urge the Chinese government to fully respect Bao Tong's right to free speech," said Sidney Jones, Executive Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. "He should not be subjected to threats and intimidation simply for expressing his views."
Jones noted that the threats to Bao Tong have come only a week before a U.S.-sponsored resolution censoring China's human rights practices will be tabled at the annual meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva.
The PSB officals told Bao Tong that he should support the decisions of the late leader, Deng Xiaoping, including the order to use army troops to suppress the "counterrevolutionary rebellion" in Beijing in June 1989. Bao Tong, in his letter, called "using hundreds of thousands of troops to crack down on unarmed students and civilians" nothing short of "shameful to humanity."
Bao Tong was also informed that his application for a passport, enabling him to travel abroad, was rejected because he is aware of too much information that remains classified and could damage state security by traveling abroad.
A senior government and Party official credited with major contributions to economic reform, Bao Tong spent seven years in prison and one year under house arrest for opposing Deng Xiaoping's decision to crack down on the pro-democracy movement in 1989. After his political rights were restored in May 1998, Bao Tong began to express his differences with Party policy to the foreign press and was repeatedly warned by security officials to be more discreet. The latest warning is the strongest to date.