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May 12, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Open letter to Hillary Clinton on eve of human rights dialogue with China


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

US Department of State

Washington DC

USA

Paris, 12 May 2010

Dear Secretary of State Clinton,

When the United States and China begin the next round in their Human Rights Dialogue in Washington tomorrow, Reporters Without Borders urges you to raise the question of China’s censorship of the Internet and news media, in line with the statement of support for online free expression that you made on 21 January.

It is essential that the United States put pressure on the Chinese authorities for concrete results and a specific follow-up to the priorities that have been identified and to the undertakings they have given. We encourage you to do everything possible to bring Chinese NGOs into this process, above all to ensure an independent evaluation.

We also urge you to press the Chinese negotiators for the release of the approximately 100 journalists and netizens who are imprisoned in China, making specific reference to the intellectual Liu Xiaobo, the website editor Huang Qi, the human rights activist Hu Jia, the cyber-dissident Zhang Jianhong, better known by the pseudonym of Li Hong, and the online journalist Yang Tianshui. The health of the last three is very worrying. Their lives are in danger.

Finally, we ask you to ensure that the cases raised in this session are also raised by the Department of Commerce during the next round of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue that is due to start on 23 May. It is a positive sign that Assistant Secretary of State Mike Posner will be participating. We think that censorship of the media and Internet has an impact on economic exchanges and, in particular, on the transparency and monitoring of investments, and can be regarded as an obstacle to trade.

Every effort must be made in this dialogue to avoid the unproductive outcome seen so often in the past, an outcome marked by vague statements of intent that are quickly ignored, while being used by the Chinese authorities to claim that they are making progress on the human rights front. The opposite is the case – repression has been stepped up in recent months.

China is the world’s biggest prison for journalists, bloggers and cyber-dissidents. Not content with having its Internet users monitored by a 40,000-member cyber-police, China has established a very sophisticated system of online censorship that combines blocking of websites and blocking of keywords covering subjects ranging from human rights and democracy to the Dalai Lama. The regime has its propaganda everywhere online and it can count on the cooperation of international companies such as Yahoo! and Microsoft which, unlike Google, still censor the results of their search engines.

Thousands of websites have been closed using the pretext of a campaign against pornography launched in January 2009. The authorities have announced that websites must be registered on a white-list to avoid being blocked and that Internet users will have to identify themselves in order to post comments online. The State Secrets Law has been amended to force Internet and telecommunications companies to cooperate closely with the authorities on matters relating to national security.

But more and more Chinese Internet users are becoming aware of the scale of the censorship and are using circumvention tools in order to access blocked sites. They are also waging campaigns of support for Iranian dissidents and for their fight for democracy. We call on you to make their voices heard by the authorities and to help them to reverse the growth in censorship.

The traditional media are also subject to draconian censorship. The Propaganda Department and the government’s Information Office have imposed strict rules on coverage of the Shanghai World Expo. It is hard to imagine a “Better city – Better life” in a country that censors the Internet and jails human rights activists on such a wide scale. The Expo 2010 Shanghai slogan is meaningless. To denounce all this censorship and repression, Reporters Without Borders has launched a virtual Garden of Liberties on its website at http://en.rsf.org/shanghai_en.html.

In your historic speech of 21 January, you clearly affirmed your country’s support for online free speech and freedom of opinion, making it a cornerstone of US diplomacy. We now urge you to defend these principles in your relations with the country that has undeniably developed the world’s most elaborate mechanisms for controlling the Internet.

We thank you in advance for the attention you give to our requests.

Sincerely,

Jean-François Julliard

Secretary-General