Defend freedom of expression in China and urge Shi Tao's release

Leading up to the Beijing Olympics, a major question for China will be how it chooses to define its Olympic legacy. Will it be one where freedom of expression is respected and protected? Not if journalists like Shi Tao continue to be unjustly oppressed, sentenced and imprisoned. Shi Tao wrote for the Contemporary Trade News. Using his Yahoo! account, he emailed a US-based website, sharing the details of an internal government directive barring media reports that could fuel unrest during the 15th anniversary of Tiananmen Square crackdown. Shi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for "illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities." Disturbingly, Yahoo! provided information to the government for his prosecution. Call on the Chinese Government to release Shi Tao from detention immediately and unconditionally, to ensure that foreign and domestic journalists are provided full media freedom and that the right to freedom of expression and information is protected online.


Dear Minister Cai Wu,

I wish your country a successful Olympics with a positive legacy for human rights. Since I believe that you are in a position to make a real difference, I ask you to ensure that foreign and domestic journalists are provided full media freedom, that the right to freedom of expression and information is protected online and that journalists, including Shi Tao, are released from detention immediately and unconditionally.

Shi Tao, a poet and journalist who has been imprisoned solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression and his rights to seek, receive and impart information, is of grave concern. In April 2004, Mr. Shi sent an e-mail from his Yahoo! account to a US-based pro-democracy website in which he summarized a government order directing media organizations in China to downplay the upcoming 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. On the basis of this e-mail, police arrested Mr. Shi seven months later in November 2004, charging him with "illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities." Using email account holder information supplied by Internet company, Yahoo!, the authorities sentenced Shi Tao to 10 years in prison in April 2005. He is being held at Deshan Prison in Changde, Hunan Province. Prior to being relocated to Deshan Prison, he was reportedly forced to labor in Chishan Prison under harsh conditions without access to proper medical care.

The right to freedom of expression is protected under China's constitution and under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has signed. Shi Tao's imprisonment appears to be a violation of both of these legal instruments, and his continued detainment sets an ominous precedent for the way journalists will be treated preceding and during the Beijing Olympics. The pervasive system of Internet censorship in China contradicts the guarantees of freedom of expression that are embodied in the nation's constitution and international law. I am alarmed that the authorities continue to use vaguely-worded laws to detain journalists, dissidents and others engaged in the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.

Amnesty International considers Shi Tao to be a prisoner of conscience. I respectfully call upon you to bring about his immediate and unconditional release. I urge you to amend or repeal vaguely-worded laws or regulations that can be used to persecute individuals who exercise their right to freedom of expression, and to take all other measures within your power to ensure that the right to freedom of expression and information is protected for all – whether online or in any other medium or forum.


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