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Letter to Prime Minister Gillard regarding Human Rights Abuses by the Chinese Government

The Hon Julia Gillard MP
Prime Minister
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Re: Human rights abuses by the Chinese government

Dear Prime Minister Gillard,

We write to you to urge that you publicly express concern about the recent spike in repression in China during your visit there from April 25-28, 2011. As a government with an established track record of speaking up on behalf of human rights, and as it is your first visit to China as Prime Minster, the Chinese government will gauge not only Australia's but also the international community's concern about the situation there on your public rhetoric and actions.

We appreciate that Australia values its bilateral relationship with China and that China is an increasingly important trading partner and source of foreign investment. Yet the Australian government has also prioritized human rights as one of the pillars of the Australian-China bilateral relations, and we believe promoting accountability for human rights violations should be a key component of that relationship. We appreciate your raising human rights issues with senior Chinese government advisor Jia Qinglin during his recent visit to Canberra, and your recent public commitment to raise human rights issues during your meetings with Chinese government leaders. We hope that you will show the same resolve to publicly raise human rights issues in Beijing next week; your voice is urgently needed at a time when Chinese security forces have launched a campaign which has resulted in the detention, arrest, or enforced disappearance of dozens of China's most prominent lawyers, civil society activists, and bloggers.

Since February 16, 2011, at least 39 lawyers, civil society activists, and bloggers have been criminally detained on baseless charges by state authorities while at least 18 others have been the victims of enforced disappearance. Between 100 and 200 other people have been subjected to an array of repressive measures ranging from police summonses to house arrest. The government has also significantly increased its censorship of the internet, forced several liberal newspaper editors to step down, and imposed new restrictions on foreign media reporting in Beijing.

This letter identifies Human Rights Watch's concerns related to the current crackdown and the role that you should take in addressing these concerns in your meetings with Chinese government officials next week.

Enforced disappearances

Enforced disappearances raise the risk of torture and ill-treatment of those targeted. Individuals who have been victims of enforced disappearances since mid-February 2011 include six of the country's most prominent human rights lawyers: Teng Biao, Tang Jitian, Liu Shihui, Tang Jingling, Li Tiantian, and Jiang Tianyong. Jiang Tianyong was reportedly released on April 19, but details of the circumstances of his detention and his physical health have yet to emerge. Gao Zhisheng, a human rights lawyer, has been missing for most of the past two years and has conveyed several detailed accounts of torture at the hands of the police. You should publicly call for an immediate stop to these unlawful enforced disappearances and the release of all activists who have been detained outside of due legal process.

Politically- Motivated Detentions and Arrests of Activists

Since mid-March, the Chinese government has detained or arrested numerous high profile activists including the artist Ai Weiwei, the disabled housing rights activist Ni Yulan, and the prominent civil society advocates Ran Yunfei, Ding Mao, and Chen Wei. The allegations against these activists, which range from "economic crimes" and "creating a disturbance" to "inciting subversion of state power," appear to be politically motivated moves to stifle dissent. You should publicly call for an immediate stop to politically-motivated arrests and detentions and the release of those detained outside of due legal process.

Indefinite house arrest

Liu Xia, the wife of imprisoned Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, has been under house arrest and been progressively deprived of freedom to communicate with the outside world since the announcement of the prize in October 2010. Chen Guangcheng, a rural legal activist, has been imprisoned in his home since his release from prison in September, and Zheng Enchong, a Shanghai-based human rights lawyer, has been under de facto house arrest since his release from prison in June 2006. You should publicly call for an immediate end to such abuses.

Restrictions on foreign correspondents

On February 27, 2011, plainclothes security forces launched unprovoked attacks on foreign correspondents who had gathered in the central Beijing shopping district of Wangfujing to cover a rumored anti-government protest. A video journalist was beaten and required medical treatment while more than a dozen other foreign media on the scene were manhandled, pushed, detained, and delayed by uniformed police and others. Since then, the Chinese government has tightened restrictions on foreign correspondents in violation of reporting freedom rules implemented in October 2008. The police and Ministry of Foreign Affairs have warned many correspondents that coverage of protests could result in the revocation of their visas. Police have informed some journalists that they now require special permits for reporting anywhere in central Beijing. You should publicly call on the Chinese government to respect the reporting rights of both foreign correspondents and Chinese journalists.

Responding to China's UPR Query

You can also use the occasion of your visit to China to reiterate and reinforce Australia's commitment to international human rights standards by responding to a Chinese government query raised while Australia underwent the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights record in January 2011. The Chinese government asked the Australian government about "specific measures adopted to protect indigenous peoples, foreign immigrants and ethnic minorities from discrimination and against systemic racism in the media and internet."[1] You could set an example of respect for United Nations human rights mechanisms by publicly engaging the Chinese government on its Australia UPR query. At the same time, you should use that opportunity to reiterate the recommendations Australia made to China during its UPR in February 2009. Those recommendations included abolition of the death penalty, extension of looser media regulations for foreign media to Chinese journalists, acceptance of outstanding visit requests by United Nations' special rapporteurs and ratification the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights "as quickly as possible."

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to discussing these issues with you and your staff at your convenience.


Sophie Richardson
Asia Advocacy Director
Human Rights Watch

[1] UN Human Rights Council, Draft report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Australia, A/HRC/WG.6/10/L.8, January 31, 2011, (accessed April 22, 2011), p. 5.

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