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Open letter to Xi on human rights

HONG KONG (AsiaNews): More than 100 authors from around the world have signed a letter addressed to the president of China, Xi Jinping, asking him to stop repressing writers in the country and to address the human rights violations being perpetrated against them.

The letter was delivered on the World Day for Human Rights, December 10.

Signatories include Salman Rushdie, the Indian writer with a fatwa proclaiming a death sentence hanging over his head; Margaret Atwood, a Canadian poet and environmentalist; and South African Nobel Laureate, J.M. Coetzee.

The letter draws Xi’s attention to the Chinese writer and Nobel Laureate, Liu Xiaobo, who was arrested on 8 December 2009.

His arrest came just two days before Charter 08, a document calling for greater respect for human rights in China to commemorate the 100th year of the Chinese Constitution, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 30th anniversary of the birth of the Democracy Wall and the 10th year since China signed the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights was published.

Liu was one of 300 intellectuals, lawyers, journalists and authors, as well as working people who signed the document, but was also seen as one of the prime instigators and co-authors.

The signatories to the letter also recall that Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, still remains under house arrest. They also cite the academic, Ilham Tohti, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for promoting separatism, when he dared to question Beijing’s violent repression of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.

The letter calls Xi’s attention to the more than a dozen Chinese writers, independent members of the organisation Pen Centre, who are currently being held in prison or suffering from harassment.

“The enforced silence of these friends and colleagues,” the letter says, “is deafening and the disappearance of their voices has left a world worse off for this egregious injustice and loss.”

At the time of Liu’s arrest, the Hong Kong-based human rights organisation, the Asian Centre for the Progress of Peoples, reported that a further 39 signatories to Charter 08 had either been questioned, summoned by police, closely monitored or had their freedom of movement restricted in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as the provinces of Liaoning, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Hainan, Shaanxi, Hubei and Hunan.

The minister in charge of the State Council Information Office, Wang Chen, was quoted at the time as saying that China has “made historic developments in human rights,” having made arduous efforts to strengthen and protect human rights.

However, the human rights watchdog pointed out that he qualified the statement with the phrase, “with Chinese characteristics,” which, as he did not elaborate on its meaning, remains open to a wide variety of interpretation.

Then, on 18 December 2009, the then-president of the People’s Republic of China, Hu Jintao, claimed at a ceremony to mark the 30th anniversary of reform and opening up of the country that “without democracy, there would be no socialist modernisation.”

However, the Asian Centre commented at the time, “In reality, as seen after the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, many events have contradicted these beautiful statements.”

Since Xi took power in 2012, there has been a sharp crackdown in China on dissidents, writers, journalists, activists, academics and human rights lawyers.

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