13 groups call for press freedom in Hong Kong and China

Sunday, May 3, 1998
On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, 3 May 1998, we, the 13 undersigned press freedom, human rights and journalists' organisations, sincerely urge the authorities in Hong Kong and all of China to exercise their authority to ensure that press freedom is promoted and protected throughout the land. On this day, we would like to express our solidarity with the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) and make common cause in calling for press freedom throughout Hong Kong and China. We are gravely concerned about the erosion of press freedom in Hong Kong since China regained control on 1 July 1997 and urge that this deterioration be halted before it worsens. We further ask that authorities actively protect and promote the professional and personal welfare of journalists and other independent media personnel working in all of China so as to allow for a truly free and independent press. World Press Freedom Day falls on 3 May to mark the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Windhoek, a document signed in 1991 to promote and protect media freedom, independence and plurality in Africa. Similar declarations have been signed in other regions of the world, including Asia, where the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has organised seminars for independent media. The day was officially chosen in 1993 by the United Nations General Assembly to celebrate and promote press freedom worldwide. We have chosen to issue our plea on this day as a reminder of the importance of freedom of expression in the growth of democracy in any nation. We also remind the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities that, as noted in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression," and hope they will respect this right in the name of democratic rule and justice. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration, and we seek progress on freedom of speech and expression in this year, rather than a decay of these principles. In particular, we are perturbed about the growing threats to democracy in Hong Kong since it has come under Chinese rule. For example, we have serious questions about article 23 of the Basic Law, which governs Hong Kong. The new legislature, which is due to be formed on 24 May, will enact this article so as to prohibit treason, sedition, theft of state secrets, and related activities. We join the HJKA in opposing this move because we are certain that such legislation can only threaten freedom of expression and press freedom in Hong Kong. There have also been a number of attacks on the individual and collective rights of reporters in Hong Kong. We are further concerned about ongoing press freedom violations in China, which continue unabated, despite a willingness to implement other signs of progress, such as economic reforms. Not least is the detention of a number of journalists and writers who have been unfairly imprisoned for carrying out their profession. Among those is Gao Yu, a journalist who was honoured with the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 1997. This prize is awarded on World Press Freedom Day to recognise an individual who has suffered in the name of press freedom. Gao Yu, who has been imprisoned since 1993, is one of at least ten journalists, and many other writers and poets who languish in China's jails or prison camps. She was sentenced to six years for "leaking state secrets" about China's structural reform program to the Hong Kong magazine "Mirror Monthly". We are seriously concerned about Gao Yu's health, which is deteriorating in prison, and we urge you to release her and other journalists and writers who are unfairly imprisoned immediately. While we welcome the release of writers and democracy activists such as Wang Dan and Wei Jingsheng, we protest that they were allowed their freedom only at the price of going into exile. These efforts to silence freedom of expression in China do not go unnoticed. We are among the many press freedom, human rights and journalists' organisations worldwide which have been monitoring the state of freedom of expression in Hong Kong since the handover, and we will continue to be vigilant. We support the aims of the independent media and organisations like the HKJA in their pursuit of press freedom in Hong Kong and all of China. Signatories * Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists, Canada * Committee to Protect Journalists, United States * Commonwealth Journalists Association, United Kingdom/Canada * Free Media Movement - Sri Lanka, * Freedom House, United States * Human Rights Watch * International Federation of Journalists, Belgium * PEN Canada, Canada * PEN American Center, United States * Reporters sans frontieres, France * World Association of Newspapers, France * World Press Freedom Committee, United States * Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN, United Kingdom This statement is also being released locally in Hong Kong by HKJA along with their own statement. Both statements will be available on HKJA's site: www.freeway.org.hk/hkja.

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