November 3, 2009
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
On behalf of Amnesty International USA, I urge you to candidly address grave human rights concerns in the people’s republic of china during your upcoming first official visit to china and press the president of china to make substantive improvements. Failure to discuss human rights abuses in a meaningful way would send the wrong signal about the seriousness with which the United States views the human rights situation in china.
The United States has the stature to address the plight of the people of china without fear of retaliation and to broach the serious and deteriorating human rights situation in china. In your role as President, you have a responsibility to make public statements emphasizing that human rights are central to US-china relations.
It would be impossible to cover the vast scope of human rights violations in china in this letter. Therefore, I will summarize only some of our major concerns.
The scale of china’s human rights violations is staggering. Hundreds of thousands of individuals are detained in administrative detention, including the “re-education through labor” detention system, where they may be detained for up to four years without trial. Human rights lawyers in china have been harassed, intimidated, assaulted, abducted, forcibly disappeared, placed under surveillance and house arrest, and faced criminal charges for protecting the rights of others. china continues to execute more prisoners than the rest of the world combined.
Torture by law enforcement personnel is endemic, resulting in many prisoners’ deaths while in custody. Women are still compelled to undergo forced abortion and sterilization to enforce the government’s one-child policy.
Thousands are suffering from brutal religious persecution and political repression. Religious persecution has led to the detention and repression of thousands of Tibetans, Uighurs, “unofficial church” members, and Falun Gong practitioners. Other targets for repression include democracy activists, political dissidents, advocates of reform, and people using the Internet to disseminate information deemed to be “politically sensitive.”
The chinese government’s record on keeping its promises has not been impressive. Virtually all the promises on human rights improvements it made when bidding for the 2008 Olympics were not kept once china won the right to hold the games in beijing. That is why you should set specific benchmarks that may not be compromised for any other policies, such as trade.
I ask that you urge the chinese authorities to address the following concerns immediately:
• Release Shi Tao, a journalist who was sentenced to ten years imprisonment on charges of “illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities” due to an email he sent to a US-based website. Court records show that one of the evidence was Shi Tao’s account holder information provided to the police by Internet company Yahoo! Inc.
• Release immediately and unconditionally those detained solely for engaging in peaceful protest, including support for the Dalai Lama, the independence of Tibet, or greater autonomy for Tibet.
• Release prisoner of conscience Ablikim Abdiriyim, son of Uighur activist Reibya Kadeer. He is serving a nine-year sentence in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) on charges of “instigating and engaging in secessionist activities.” There are serious concerns that he may have confessed under torture. Ablikim Abdiriyim was detained with his siblings and several family members in May 2006. Their detention prevented them from meeting with a United States Congressional delegation on a scheduled visit. His brother Alim Abdiriyim is also in prison on charges of tax evasion, which may be politically motivated.
• Ensure lawyers’ rights to carry out their legal work without harassment, intimidation, violence or fear of criminal prosecution.
I further request that you establish the following benchmarks to assess improvements:
• Abolition of the “Re-Education through Labor” detention system. There is a strong domestic call in China for the reform of the system. In the run-up to the beijing Olympics, an open letter calling for its abolition solicited 15,000 signatures.
• A public and independent investigation of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators. Human rights defenders and activists face police harassment and surveillance when they press the authorities to take responsibility for the crackdown in 1989.
• A lifting of all restrictions and obstacles to freedom of worship. Thousands are detained for their religious activities.
• Cessation of the repression of Tibetans and Uighurs and respect for their ethnic, cultural and religious identity. Tibetans and Uighurs has been the target of systematic and extensive human rights violations. These include arbitrary detention, torture, severe restrictions on freedom of religion and employment discrimination.
And with regard to china’s foreign policy:
• Mr. President, we also urge you to discuss china’s international role and urge china to use its close relationships with Burma and Sri Lanka to secure the release of political prisoners in Burma including Aung San Suki and to release over a quarter of a million people who are detained in military run internment camps in Sri Lanka.
Mr. President, your leadership is critical to secure meaningful and immediate action by the government of china to improve its protection of human rights. I hope you will use this opportunity to set in motion an agenda to improve human rights. Thank you.