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Human Rights Groups call on the European Union not to sacrifice human rights and press freedom on the altar of economics

April 2, 1998

An Reporters Sans Fronti?es, Article 19, and Human Rights in China Joint Statement

As the European Union and China hold talks in London, as part of the ASEM conference, on 3 and 4 April, Article 19, Reporters Sans Fronti?es and Human Rights in China say:

"The European Union must not sacrifice human rights and press freedom in China on the altar of economics"

As the European Union and China hold talks in London, as part of the ASEM conference, on 3 and 4 April, two non-government organisations that defend press freedom - ARTICLE 19 and Reporters Sans Fronti?es (RSF) - and the organisation Human Rights in China call on the leaders of European Union countries to "demand that the Chinese government release all journalists and other persons imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression, as recognised by international agreements".

On 23 February, the European Union's foreign ministers decided not to put forward a resolution condemning China to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in view of "the encouraging initial results of discussions between the European Union and China on human rights". The three organisations strongly condemn that decision, which is in complete contradiction with the facts.

By way of example, journalist Gao Yu (see "People" session at our website), who was sentenced in November 1994 to six years in prison for "divulging state secrets", is still in jail, although her health is giving increasing cause for concern. She is suffering from Meni?e's disease, which causes severe hearing loss, and serious heart problems. She should be released immediately. Gao Yu's situation, symbolic of that of many journalists currently imprisoned in China, cannot be considered as representing "progress". Similary, the forced exile of dissident Wei Jingsheng, who was released in November 1997 on medical grounds but faces prison if he returns to his country, has not resulted in real change for others imprisonned in China.

Freedom of expression and the right to freely investigate and publish are still strictly controlled in the People's Republic of China, in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Respect for official ideology is still the authorities' watchword towards journalists, and many subjects cannot be dealt with by the media.

ARTICLE 19, Reporters Sans Fronti?es and Human Rights in China are also concerned about recent statements by the chief executive of the special administrative region of Hong Kong, Tung Chee-Hwa, who said of the RTHK television channel: "While freedom of expression is important, it is also important for government policy to be presented in a positive manner. I shall see to that later." Moreover, reports from many journalists in Hong Kong have made it clear that self-censorship is common in editorial offices.

ARTICLE 19, Reporters Sans Fronti?es and Human Rights in China:

  • call on the countries of the European Union to make complete and inalienable respect for human rights, and therefore press freedom, a prior condition of any trade and economic agreement with the People's Republic of China, and to do everything possible to ensure that journalists imprisoned in China, and other persons held for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, are immediately released.
  • call on the People's Republic of China to sign and ratify, as it has undertaken to do, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 19 of which states that "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression", and to ratify without reservations the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
  • call for independent non-government organisations to be included in the discussions on human rights between the European Union and China, and be kept regularly informed of developments in this respect ; and for the progress made to be followed and evaluated on a regular basis according to a clear set of targets.

Finally, ARTICLE 19, Reporters Sans Fronti?es and Human Rights in China call on the countries of the European Union, and the United Kingdom in particular, to use their influence to ensure that press freedom continues to be maintained without restrictions in the special administrative region of Hong Kong.