Chinese elders call for free press

Al Jazeera

The open letter comes days after Liu Xiaobo, a jailed dissident, won the Nobel Peace Prize. (Reuters photo)

Twenty-three veterans of the Communist Party write open letter, calling for scrapping of censorship rules.

Twenty-three senior members of the Chinese Communist Party have called on the government to lift the restrictions on freedom of speech in China.

In an open letter dated October 1, the members who earlier held senior positions either in the party or in government apparatus, pointed out that though the country’s constitution guarantees freedom of speech, it is not allowed to be exercised.

The letter circulated online on October 11 comes days after Liu Xiaobo, an imprisoned Chinese dissident, was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Liu, a 54-year-old literary critic, is now in the second year of an 11-year prison term after being convicted of inciting subversion over his role in writing an influential 2008 manifesto for political reform.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Nicholas Bequelin, a China expert with Human Rights Watch, said that the Chinese elders have timed their call for more freedom of speech because of the publicity surrounding the jailed Xiaobo.

“It’s not coincidental, they decided to go ahead and make this bold call for freedom of the press and freedom of expression precisely because all the attention is on  Liu Xiaobo serving a prison term while he just received a Nobel Peace Prize.”

China’s government has denounced Liu’s prize as an interference in its political and legal systems and warned that it would harm relations with Norway, where an independent committee presents the Nobel Peace Prize each year.


The authors of the letter have said that China’s current censorship policy is “a scandal in the history of democracy. Not even the nation’s premier has freedom of publication”.

It called on the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, to abolish restrictions on publication.

“Our current system of censoring news and publications is 315 years behind Britain and 129 years behind France,” the elders said in the letter.

China quite often implements unwritten rules and regulations on what can or cannot be published, but the final call is made by the Communist Party’s shadowy central propaganda department.

Members of the department regularly notify editors about the topics that are taboo, usually by telephone to avoid leaving any documentary evidence, with the list changing constantly depending on events.

Key demands

The veterans’ key demand is that the current censorship system be replaced with a system of legal responsibility.

They have also said that the National People’s Congress should urgently start working on creating a Press law and all of the local restrictions on media must be scrapped.

They have stressed that the media should be made independent of government bodies, making editors-in-chief responsible for their editorial decisions.

Journalist must be respected, supported and protected. They should be allowed to report on mass incidents and uncover corruption cases on behalf of the people, the letter advocated.

Chinese citizens have the right to know the errors of the ruling party so such information should be in the public domain, the members argued.

The group has also called for free circulation of publications from the territories of Hong Kong and Macau.

Among the signatories were Li Rui, the former secretary to revolutionary leader, Mao Zedong. Other notables included Hu Jiwei, former director of Peoples’ Daily, and Li Pu, ex-deputy director of Xinhua news agency.

The government insists the huge improvements in incomes and quality of life among its citizens is a clear indication that the one-party authoritarian system is what works for the country.

Wang Yongcheng, a retired professor at Jiaotong University, Shanghai, and one of the signatories said that the letter had been inspired by the recent arrest of a journalist who wrote about corruption in the resettlement of farmers for a dam project.

He said: “We want to spur action towards governing the country according to law.”