16 February 2020

Chinese academics' open letter to the Chinese National People's Congress calling for freedom of speech, 8 February 2020

16 February 2020
言論自由權從今天開始 — 致全國人民代表大會及其常務委員會的公開信, 2020-2-8

What follows is the translation of a statement by a few high level Chinese academics to the Chinese National People's Congress (NPC) on 8 February 2020 calling for freedom of speech policies, two days after the death of the whistleblower, Dr Li Wenliang. The original text was published in The Stands News in Hong Kong. This is why it is in traditional scripts.
It is worth noting that respect for freedom of speech is a part of the Chinese constitution, though that right is interpreted through the lenses of one-party rule and the need for national harmony and stability.
This call for academic freedom is timely but far from unprecedented, but one should not expect this to be a nail in the coffin for one party rule in China. As recent as December 2019, numerous Chinese academics have raised alarms about the increased restriction on academic freedom and "demand for loyalty" under Xi. ('Demand for Absolute Loyalty to Beijing at Chinese Universities Triggers Dissent', Wall Street Journal. 18 December 2019) The CCP has always been concerned about the role of intellectuals within the country, but under Xi, this has taken up a notch. This is exemplified by he introduced reforms in 2017 that forced reputedly liberal universities like Shantou University to toe the party line by ordering the party committee at Shantou University to take a lead role in overseeing the running of seminars and academic forums on campus. ('Chinese Communist Party targets university known for global outlook', South China Morning Post. 28 March 2017) As Professor Linda Jakobson from an Australian think tank, China Matters once said, the primary objective of the CCP is to preserve the one party state, above all else.
Nonetheless, the timing of this petition is poignant in the light of the current uproar in Chinese social media over Li Wenliang. Furthermore, it underlines the relative impotence of the Chinese social credit system in the face of this public health crisis.

人大校友 魯難,吳小軍,秦渭,田仲勳
北京大學教授 張千帆
清華大學教授 許章潤
獨立學者 笑蜀, 郭飛雄
地質大學校友 王西川

[English translation]
On 6 February 2020, whistleblower Dr Li Wenliang died from the coronavirus in Wuhan, thus became a martyr for the cause of freedom of expression. This is a heartbreaking tragedy that echoes through heaven and earth.
Due to suppression of freedom of expression, coronavirus was able to inflict fear and suffering amongst the people in a time supposedly meant for the celebration of the festive new year. It is as if the entire people have been placed under house arrest. All economic and social interactions were forced to come to a halt. To this date, there have been 637 deaths, and millions of people in Wuhan and other parts of Hubei province suffers in the cold helplessly, facing discrimination, dislocation and isolation.
The origin of this tragedy started with the police unjust reprimands of Dr Li and his eight medical colleagues who raised alarm about the epidemics. This amounts to a vagrant abuse of police powers. For doctors who have their freedom of speech violated simply for doing their duties amounts to an attack on their dignity. For thirty years, the Chinese people have traded their liberty for the sake of
safety, only to find them in an even more unsafe public health safety crisis. We are close to the edge of a humanitarian disaster. Fearing the spread of the virus, the world has isolated China.
This is the price for sacrificing liberty, the cost of repressing free speech, the foams of Chinese style socialism. Till now, the overall government message focuses on disease prevention. However, courts and law enforcement agencies have often used unconstitutional means to implement unannounced state of emergency, and used disease prevention as an excuse to rob people's constitutional rights, including the right to free speech, right to freedom of movement and right to own private properties.
This all must cease. There is no safety if there is no freedom of speech. In the name of the people, we hereby issue five demands (to the Chinese National People's Congress).
1. We demand that 6 February shall be declared Freedom of Expression Day, or Li Wenliang Day.
2. We demand that the government properly implement every parts of section 35 of the PRC constitution with regards to freedom of expression.
3. We request that from this day forth, no Chinese citizen should be threatened by state authorities and law enforcement agencies purely for voicing their opinions, exercising their right to freedom of assembly and communication. Government authorities should cease the monitoring and censoring of postings on social media.
4. We request that the people in Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province should be treated equally in comparison to people from other cities in China. Their civil rights should be respected. All sufferers of coronavirus should receive timely and effective treatment.
5. We call on all delegates to the (upcoming) National People's Congress to begin emergency sessions, in order to avoid the possibility of the planned NPC session from being cancelled due to political reasons. We further call on NPC delegates to discuss how to implement legal measures that would safeguard people's rights to freedom of speech. We call on delegates to implement what is promised to the Chinese people by the constitution with regards to the right to free speech.
We welcome all signatories to this petition. This petition will remain open.
Several academic colleagues from Renmin University, Beijing (unnamed)
Lu Nan, Wu Xiaojun, Qin Wei, Tian Zhongdong, Academic colleagues from Renmin Univesity, Beijing
Professor Zhang Qianfan, Peking University
Professor Xu Zhangrun, Qinghua University
Xiao Shu, Guo Feixiong, independent scholars
Wang Xichuan, Chinese University of Geosciences, Wuhan


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