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China: Hu Jia’s Fate a Test of Beijing’s Human Rights Stance

(New York) - The Chinese authorities should release leading human rights activist Hu Jia and drop charges of subversion against him, Human Rights Watch said today. The case of Hu Jia, who will as of February 27 have been detained for two months, has become emblematic of Beijing’s broad attempt to suppress dissent ahead of the Olympic Games.

“The longer Hu Jia is in detention, the worse China’s image will be,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “With fewer than six months to go before the Olympics, the Chinese government has everything to gain and nothing to lose by releasing him.”

A leading activist who has called for greater attention to human rights issues around the Olympics, Hu was formally arrested for “incitement to subvert state power” on January 30, 2008, but has not yet been formally indicted. He is currently detained at Beijing’s Municipal Detention Center.

Human Rights Watch is concerned that Hu is being prosecuted simply for exercising his rights to freedom of opinion and expression as guaranteed by the Chinese constitution and international human rights law. The crime of “incitement to subvert state power” as defined under Chinese law criminalizes criticism of the government and the Communist Party of China in violation of human rights law.

To mark the two months since Hu’s arrest, Human Rights Watch is making available today on its Olympics website the full translation of an unprecedented letter Hu wrote with Teng Biao, a fellow human rights activist and leading civil rights lawyer, entitled “The Real China and the Olympics.” In this letter, published in September 2007 while Hu was already under house arrest, the two authors document specific and wide-ranging violations of human rights by the government, and call on the international community to hold Beijing to the promises it made when bidding to host the Games, which included improving human rights.

“When you come to the Olympic Games in Beijing, you will see skyscrapers, spacious streets, modern stadiums and enthusiastic people,” the authors wrote. “Please be aware that the Olympic Games will be held in a country where there are no elections, no freedom of religion, no independent courts, no independent trade unions; where demonstrations and strikes are prohibited; [and where] the government is not willing to undertake any of its international obligations.”

The letter is available at https://www.hrw.org/pub/2008/asia/teng_biao080220.pdf. A chronology of Hu’s case is available at https://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2008/02/26/china18149.htm.

Human Rights Watch has documented systematic repression by the Chinese authorities against activists and dissidents in recent months.

“The Chinese government has rejected scrutiny of its human rights record ahead of the Olympics by asserting that ‘Chinese people know best about China’s human rights situation,’” said Richardson. “Yet when some Chinese people try speak out about that very situation, they end up in jail.”

Human Rights Watch called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Olympic sponsors and foreign governments whose representatives will attend the Games in August to publicly demand that the Chinese government immediately release Hu. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated during her visit to Beijing on February 26 that she had raised Hu’s case with her Chinese counterparts.

“The Chinese government can no longer ignore international concern about this case, and this creates a real opportunity for gaining his release,” said Richardson. “Now is the time for the IOC, the sponsors and foreign governments to speak out.”

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