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China's President Jiang Told to Release Prisoners

In a thirty-five page report released today, Human Rights Watch called on China's President Jiang Zemin to release more than thirty people imprisoned for their role in the China Democracy Party and all others who have been detained in China for peaceful political activities. The Chinese President will be in the U.S. on September 7 to meet world leaders at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly.

The new report, "Nipped in the Bud: Suppression of the China Democracy Party," documents China's systematic crushing of attempts by a group of activists to form the first legally registered opposition party since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. The activists, who announced the founding of the party on the eve of President Bill Clinton's state visit to China in June 1998, used the provisions of international human rights treaties as evidence of their right to organize. Some members had already been arrested when China finally signed ?but did not ratify ?one of those treaties, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in October 1998. More arrests and harsh sentences followed.

"As President Jiang is feted as an economic reformer during his visit, admirers should remember that in China, promoting political reform remains a hazardous occupation," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "What the world calls freedom of association, the Chinese leadership still calls threats to social stability." She noted that President Jiang had personally called for any political activities that challenge the Communist Party's monopoly on power to be "nipped in the bud."

The China Democracy Party, a group that at its height probably had no more than 200 members, was composed mostly of veteran pro-democracy supporters. Some of them, such as Xu Wenli and Qin Yongmin, were active in the Democracy Wall movement of 1979-81, and they received some of the most severe sentences ?thirteen and twelve years in prison respectively. Other key leaders, such as Wang Youcai, had been imprisoned for involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations.

What distinguishes the China Democracy Party from other non-Party controlled organizations that emerged around the same time was its effort to register with the Ministry of Civil Affairs as a lawful "social group" that intended to become a political party. Chinese officials made clear that any organization engaged in political activities was out of the question.

"In China, trying to obey the law doesn't help if the law forbids challenges to the Party," Jones said. The new report calls on the Chinese government to revoke all laws and regulations restricting the rights of free association, expression, and assembly.

The report also urges governments and U.N. officials to use high-level visits and meetings with Jiang and other Chinese leaders to press for the release of CDP members and prompt ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Jiang is scheduled to meet President Clinton in New York at the U.N., and Premier Zhu Rongji is scheduled to visit Japan in October. The European Union plans to hold its next human rights dialogue with China later this month.

The report can be found at https://www.hrw.org/reports/2000/china/

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