President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20500
March 30, 2016
As you prepare to hold a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping tomorrow, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) would like to draw your attention to its concerns about the current crackdown on journalists and bloggers in China.
As you are no doubt aware, China is one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists and citizen journalists, currently ranking 176th out of 180 countries on RSF’s 2015 Press Freedom Index. The crackdown on media and cyber activists has continued to worsen since Xi Jinping came into power, and this has most recently been demonstrated by the current witch-hunt led against suspected authors of an anonymous open letter calling for Xi’s resignation.
Shortly after the letter was posted online on March 15, Chinese journalist Jia Jia was arrested in Beijing where he was set to board a flight to Hong Kong. He was released 10 days later. Chang Ping, another Chinese journalist now living in exile in Germany, condemned Jia Jia’s arrest in an article published on March 25. On March 27, Chang Ping reported that Chinese authorities had arrested his two brothers and his sister in China, and had asked his family members to contact him to “demand that [he] immediately cease to publish any articles that criticize the Chinese Communist party.”
Wen Yunchao, also known as BeiFeng, a well-known Chinese blogger and human rights defender now based in New York, learned that his parents and brother were arrested by Chinese police in the southern province of Guangdong on March 22. Wen Yunchao, known for his series of online campaigns in support of human rights and against internet censorship, was rumored to be the anonymous letter’s author. He later denied these rumors. He has been a visiting scholar at Columbia University and in 2010 was awarded the French Republic’s Human Rights Prize by the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights.
According to several trusted sources, at least 20 people have been arrested in China in connection with the anonymous letter calling for Xi Jinping’s resignation. Furthermore, the fact that the Chinese government’s witch-hunt now includes family members of Chinese citizens living abroad, one of whom lives in the United States, is an illustration of the country’s ever-worsening crackdown on freedom of expression and its blatant disregard for international law.
The United States have a duty to guarantee fundamental freedoms for all those who live within its territory. Today the basic rights of Wen Yunchao, an asylum applicant living in the US, have been trampled by a foreign government that is harassing his family members thousands of miles away with complete impunity.
During your bilateral meeting with the Chinese president, it is paramount that you send a clear message that the US will not tolerate his government’s crackdown on freedom of the press and of information in China, no matter how important the economic partnership between your two countries remains.
I thank you in advance, Mr. President, for the careful attention you give to this letter.