From the moment I started this blog, I knew I’d be able to express my views even if they are critical of any of the world’s most powerful countries. Meanwhile, my colleagues scattered at their desks around me have probably been writing and sending opinionated emails. But neither they nor I have any reason to fear arrest and prison for these actions. This was not true for Chinese journalist Shi Tao.
Freedom of expression is a universal right that resonates deeply at Care2. So for the past three months, we’ve been informally campaigning on behalf of journalists and bloggers who have been denied this right. This week, we’d like to highlight a man who is serving a ten-year prison sentence for an action that is protected by international law and the Chinese constitution.
Shi Tao’s “crime” was sending an email to a U.S.-based pro-democracy group. In the email, he summarized a government order directing media organizations in China to downplay the anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy activists. Shi Tao was arrested in November 2004. Using email account holder information supplied by Yahoo!, Chinese officials convicted Shi Tao in April 2005 and sentenced him to ten years in prison.
Shi Tao has spent the last 5 years in jail for “illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities.” Although this may sound like a serious charge, the vague-wording of what constitutes a “state secret” means many people acting within their rights and within the law could be arrested and detained by Chinese authorities at any minute. And the poorly-worded legal definition of “state secret” is no fluke. China systematically denies its own citizens their right to freedom of expression, and the internet is one of the government’s strictest domains. All Internet communications pass through government-controlled routers, and authorities are notorious for filtering content and blocking websites. From foreign news services to international human rights groups to websites that feature the words “democracy,” “freedom,” and “human rights” — there’s a good chance their access is blocked in China.
Needless to say, I’ve been impressed by many of the recent accomplishments in China and by its continuing progress as a nation. However, as China steps into its role as a “world-leader,” we need to collectively challenge China to not only be a country that is powerful and productive — but to also be a country that honors the civil rights of its own people and of people across the world.
If you’d like to ask President Hu Jintao to free Shi Tao, please sign the Care2 petition.
Photo by AP
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