Search Form
First, enter a politician or zip code
Now, choose a category

Public Statements

World Press Freedom Day

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. Speaker, last Saturday, May 3, was World Press Freedom Day. Two years ago, in conjunction with World Press Freedom Day, Congressman Mike Pence, Senator Chris Dodd, Senator Dick Lugar and I established the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press. Since then, this bipartisan, bicameral caucus has sought to highlight the importance of free expression around the world. The caucus is a forum where Members of Congress can work to combat and condemn media censorship and the persecution of journalists worldwide.

Our caucus works to send a strong message that Congress will defend democratic values and human rights wherever they're threatened. We work to highlight abuses of press freedom and foster reforms in support of press freedom around the world. We have hosted panel discussions with press freedom experts, journalists and victims of press freedom crimes. We have written to the leaders of countries which jail journalists, impose censorship, and allow harassment, attacks and threats to occur with impunity. And we've spoken out here on the House floor and in the media to call for reforms in countries that seek to censor freedom of speech and expression.

The caucus enjoys the support of a wide range of organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, Freedom House, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the National Endowment for Democracy's Center for International Media Assistance, as well as the legendary Walter Cronkite.

World Press Freedom Day was first designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1993 as an occasion to pay tribute to repressed journalists and to reflect upon the role of the media in general in advancing fundamental human rights as codified in international law, regional conventions, and national constitutions. In keeping with that tradition, we have hosted a Special Order hour in honor of World Press Freedom Day each year since the inception of the caucus.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is a foundation of the postwar human rights movement, guarantees freedom of expression in article 19. "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of any frontiers.'' It may not be as elegant as our first amendment, but its effect and its desire and goal are the same.

For Americans, this day should spur us to consider the role that journalists play in our society and to ponder what our Nation would be like if this cornerstone of liberty were to be curtailed. Many Americans take the concept of a free press for granted and don't realize that an unfettered press is vital to America's national security and to our democracy here at home.

Freedom of the press is so central to our democracy that the Framers enshrined it in the very first amendment to our Constitution. Thomas Jefferson so valued the principle of press freedom that he said, given the choice between a free government or a free press, he would choose a free press. He said, "The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspaper without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.''

Journalists have jealously guarded their rights and American courts have, in the main, carved out broad protections for the press. In the United States, the press operates almost as a fourth branch of government, the Fourth Estate, independent of the other three, and positioned as an agent of the free people.

Winston Churchill agreed with the idea that a free press was almost another independent branch of government saying, "A free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny. Under dictatorship the press is bound to languish, and the loudspeaker and the film to become more important. But where free institutions are indigenous to the soil and men have the habit of liberty, the press will continue to be the Fourth Estate, the vigilant guardian of the rights of the ordinary citizen.''

From the pioneering work of journalists during the Civil War, to the "muckrakers'' who were committed to exposing the social, economic and political ills of industrial life in the early 20th century, to the work of the Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in uncovering the Watergate scandal a year later, journalists have performed a crucial role as watchdogs of American freedom.

But in order for the press to do its work properly, it must be free, and journalists must be able to do their work without fear of retribution. Information is power, which is precisely why many governments attempt to control the press to suppress opposition and preempt dissent.

Far too often, the reporters and editors who demand reform, accountability and greater transparency find themselves at risk. The censorship, intimidation, imprisonment, and murder of these journalists are not only crimes against these individuals, they also impact those who are denied access to their ideas and information.

Freedom of expression and a free press is not just a cornerstone of democracy, it has also proven to play an important role in economic and social development. James Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank, has long argued that "a free press is not a luxury, it is at the core of equitable development.''

The media exposes corruption, helps build a public consensus to bring about change, and facilitates the transmission of innovative ideas and valuable information that empowers people to share and shape their own destinies. There is an emerging consensus among development institutions that a skilled and a viable media sector is a society's most promising tool for motivating government reform and poverty reduction.

Regrettably, censorship, intimidation, imprisonment, and even murder of journalists are far too common in countries all around the world. The map to my right provides a visual representation of press freedom rights by country. This map was provided by Freedom House, which releases an annual index called Freedom of the Press: A Global Survey of Media Independence. The countries that are highlighted in green are listed as having a "free'' press. The countries in yellow represent countries that are "partly free.'' And the countries colored purple are countries they describe as "not free'' in terms of press freedom rights. And as you can see, in addition to problems here, we have vast expanses in Africa, in Asia, in the Middle East, and in South Asia.

To break it down a little more, when taking population into account, 42 percent of the world's people live in countries that have a press that is "not free.'' Forty percent of the world's population live in countries that have only a "partly free'' press. That is exhibited here in yellow. And in green we see that only 18 percent of the world's citizens enjoy a "free press.'' Quite remarkable; 18 percent "free,'' 42 percent "not free,'' and the additional 40 percent only "partly free.''

More than 80 percent of the world's people, therefore, are denied full access to information. This is not for economic reasons, as you might expect, such as printing costs, lack of Internet connections or illiteracy, all of which are problems in their own right. Eighty-two percent of the world's population, 82 percent of the world is being denied access to information because their governments don't want them to have that access.

It's also important to note that even as the world continues to globalize, tragically press freedom continues to slip. This was the sixth consecutive year that Freedom House's index showed a reduction in global press freedom, a worrisome trend.

As I mentioned, this is the third Special Order hour we have held in recognition of World Press Freedom Day. The first year we launched our caucus, we outlined the intention of our caucus and press freedom abuses around the entire world. Last year, we decided that each year we would focus on a particular hot spot and highlight a single country where press freedom rights are particularly limited.

Last year, we focused on Russia. We profiled 18 journalists murdered in Russia during the administration of outgoing President Vladimir Putin. All of these journalists were believed to be killed due to their work. Most of these murders remain unsolved to this day.

Tonight, I will focus on the lack of press freedom in China leading up to the 2008 Summer Olympic games in Beijing this August. I have chosen to highlight press freedom in China for a number of reasons, including its failure to implement promised press freedom reforms before the Olympics, its incarceration of more journalists than any other country, its lack of independent media, and its censorship of the Internet, all of which I will be discussing tonight.

As the world's most populous country, China denies more citizens access to a free press than any other country. It is also tied for 181st place out of 195 countries in press freedom rights in Freedom House's survey. To give you a bit of perspective, China ranks between Syria and Iran in the survey. And Russia, which as I just mentioned lost 18 journalists, murdered journalists, during one president's administration, that country is ranked ahead of China on the survey.

As I speak here tonight, the Chinese Government limits more than 1 billion people's access to an open Internet and an independent media, despite the fact that article 35 of the Chinese Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, assembly, association and publication. Unfortunately, other articles in its Constitution subordinate these rights to what is called the national interest.'' This allows the ruling communist party to maintain direct control over the news media through the Central Propaganda Department, the CPD.

The Chinese Government has even proposed fines for domestic and foreign news organizations that report "sudden events,'' such as protests, disease outbreaks, or national disasters without government authorization. Some of these are public health emergencies, epidemics that the Chinese government wants to have the ability to hide. These are just a few of the examples that I've chosen to highlight China tonight.

China is an enormously important country. China has emerged in a big way on the world stage. And China is a country of immense promise. It is important both to the Chinese Government and to the Chinese people, as well as to the rest of the world, that we help to promote press freedom in our largest neighbor in the world, and one that will take a position of increasing importance in the years to come.

Before I continue, I want to thank all the press freedom advocacy organizations that helped provide this information for tonight's discussion: The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, the National Endowment For Democracy, and Freedom House have all been chronicling press freedom abuses in China, and much of what I will share with you tonight is a product of these groups' research, investigation, and reporting. I want to thank them not just for their efforts in helping us here tonight but, more importantly, for all of their work to defend journalists and journalism around the world. And I also want to take a moment to thank Sean Oblack of my staff for all of his effort and leadership in helping to put this caucus together and the presentation tonight.

During the Olympic bidding process, as international opposition grew to rewarding the Olympics to China, the Chinese Government promised to strengthen human rights in China. This included a commitment to press freedom. In the days leading up to the Olympic vote, Wang Wei, Secretary General of the Beijing Olympic Bidding Committee, said, "We will give the media complete freedom to report when they come to China.''

Regrettably, though, China has not delivered "complete freedom'' to its own reporters. In September, 2007 Teng Biao and Hu Jia, two of China's most celebrated human rights activists, in an open letter to the international community, detailed China's failure to live up to its Olympic commitments, including press freedom. Teng and Hu wrote:

"As of this writing, 35 Chinese journalists and 51 writers are still in prison. Over 90 percent were arrested or tried after Bejing's successful bid for the Olympics in July of 2001. For example, Dr. Xu Zerong, a scholar from Oxford University who researched the Korean War, was sentenced to 13 years' imprisonment for `illegally providing information abroad.' Qingshuijun, Huang Jinqiu, a freelance writer, was sentenced to a 12-year term of imprisonment for his online publications. Some writers and dissidents are prohibited from going abroad; others from returning to China.''

Due to this letter, due to this letter, Hu Jia now sits in jail. I will be profiling his case later in the hour.

Human Rights Watch reports that Chinese journalists remain closely observed by state security agencies to ensure that their reporting reflects the official government position. The government's Publicity Department heavily influences the weekly editorial content for print, radio, and television platforms by preventing the reporting of sensitive topics that fall under the vague metric of issues affecting "social stability.'' Journalists that stray from the government line, as Teng and Hu noted, face imprisonment, travel restrictions, or are effectively deported.

Foreign correspondents do not experience "complete freedom'' either when reporting in China. On January 1, 2007, the Chinese Government introduced a temporary measure that was intended to increase foreign reporters' freedom in China before, during, and after the Olympic games. This measure was set to expire in October, 2008. While some foreign correspondents have experienced increased journalistic freedom since the measure went into effect, most have not.

A Foreign Correspondents Club in China's survey showed that 40 percent of foreign correspondents have experienced harassment, detention, or an official warning during the news gathering in Beijing and other areas.

One foreign reporter in China that Human Rights Watch interviewed experienced harassment and had difficulty renewing her work visa after covering political dissidents and the highly publicized murder of Chinese journalist Lan Chengzhang. She told Human Rights Watch, ``I know the stories we have done have angered the Chinese Government, and my visa renewal problems began after,'' after those reports.

Other foreign correspondents have been detained for legal reporting activities. The New York Times Shanghai-based correspondent David Barboza, his Chinese assistant, and a photographer were detained for more than 10 hours by staff at a factory in Guangdong province while doing a story about toxic lead paint discovered in the factory's exports to the United States. Barboza was eventually let go after writing a statement explaining the reason for his factory visit and stating that he hadn't obtained permission to take the photographs.

At particular risk are the assistants and sources of foreign reporters as they're helping on stories that domestic reporters cannot cover. One local assistant of a foreign press correspondent was told by security agents that it was his responsibility to notify the agents if the reporter was uncovering anything sensitive and warned him and his family of possible legal action if he did not. Sipa Press photographer Natalie Behring described to Human Rights Watch the obstacles foreign reporters face in finding a cooperative source: ``In light of the new rules, the Chinese Government can't stop us from talking to anyone; so they intimidate the subjects of our reporting rather than intimidating the reporters.''

In the fall of last year, I, along with my Congressional Caucus For Freedom of the Press co-Chair Mike Pence, wrote a letter to Liu Qin, president of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic games, expressing our deep disappointment in the government's failure to live up to the promises that it made before the Olympic vote in 2001. The letter expressed our frustration that Chinese journalists face imprisonment for reporting stories unfavorable to the state, are forced to toe the government line, and the ever-increasing restrictions on accessible material on the Internet.

In the past the Olympic games have helped establish freedoms in countries struggling to emerge from authoritarian rule. Most notably, the 1988 summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea played a critical role in helping to bring democracy to that country. It's my hope that China begins to live up to its promise of complete freedom for journalists, that it will cease the harassment and imprisonment of journalists, and allow the Chinese people to experience the full communicative and economic powers of the Internet and that the games will usher in a newer, freer era in Chinese public life.

I'm now going to spend a few minutes talking about one of the extreme measures that governments take to censor the media, and that is arrest and detention. Unfortunately, it's become commonplace for some governments to silence journalists simply by jailing them. And, regrettably, there is no bigger offender in this regard than China. And, again, this is one of the main reasons we have chosen to highlight China here tonight.

Before I discus China's imprisonment of journalists, I would like to give a brief overview of this problem around the world. And in fairness and in completeness, while we are focusing on China because of the magnitude of the problem there and because of the promises that were made in advance of the Olympics, it's important to recognize this is by no means a problem confined to China. Tragically, as we've seen in the diagrams we had up earlier, press freedom is very limited in many places around the world and under great assault in many places around the world. So China is not unique in this respect. It is unique in its size. It's unique in some of the technological instruments it has used to effectuate censorship in this era of Internet journalism, but it is not unique around the world for this problem.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, as of December 1, 2007, 127 journalists were in prison around the world as a consequence of their work. Of these more than 80 were being held by only five countries, however: China, Cuba, Eritrea, Azerbaijan, and Burma.

This statistic only includes journalists that the Committee to Protect Journalists can account for and that CPJ has confirmed are being jailed. It does not include another alarming category that the organization tracks, and that is journalists who have either disappeared or have been abducted by nonstate entities, including criminal groups and gangs, rebels, and militant groups.

CPJ's research has found that nearly 17 percent of journalists jailed worldwide in 2007 were held without any publicly disclosed charge. Many for months, some for years, and some in secret locations.

The majority of journalists being imprisoned are being held on spurious antistate allegations such as subversion or divulging state secrets or acting against some undefined national interests. CPJ has found out that about 57 percent of journalists in their survey are jailed under these charges, and of those many are being held, regrettably, by the Chinese Government.

These statistics demonstrate that China is not the only offender in this practice but clearly one of the worst. As we have stated, we have set aside this time tonight to highlight China. But while we are on the subject of jailing journalists nationwide, I would like to take a brief moment to discuss one particular case in Eritrea that was brought to my attention by a constituent of mine who works with Amnesty International Group 22 in Pasadena.

Eritrea is a country of only 4.6 million people; yet it imprisons the third-most journalists of any country: 14. What's worse, the Government of Eritrea will not even confirm whether the journalists in its custody are alive or dead, and it also holds the most journalists in secret locations.

One such journalist being held in a secret location in Eritrea is Seyoum Tsehaye, a freelance reporter. His arrest and jailing was believed to be part of the government's crackdown to eliminate political dissent ahead of elections scheduled for December of 2001, which were later canceled. He was arrested on the street in September of that year, the first day of a major round-up and imprisonment of reformers in Eritrea. There are concerns about his health, but the government has refused to provide details about his well-being. He has never been allowed a family visit or a lawyer. He has never been charged or appeared before any court. Last year Reporters Without Borders honored him as their "2007 Journalist of the Year.'' And tonight we take a moment to think about Seyoum Tsehaye, freelance reporter in Eritrea, held in custody in a secret location since September of 2001.

So it's clear this is a problem not only associated with China. It is also clear there are more cases of imprisoned journalists around the world than we have time to discuss tonight or, for that matter, over the course of a great many nights.

It's important, though, to cast a spotlight tonight on China because of the significant role it plays on the international stage. It's one thing to talk about Eritrea and the role it plays; it's another to talk about one of the world's superpowers with all of its promise, with all of its future, and with a current policy extremely inhibiting of a free press.

In addition to hosting the summer's Olympic games, China's the world most populous nation, permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and as I mentioned, an emerging superpower. Rightly or wrongly, many countries look to China to set an example that others can follow. In this case that is a great concern to the well-being of global citizenry.

As I mentioned here tonight, China promised the world community to improve press freedom in advance of the Olympics. For 9 years, however, it has held the distinction of being the world's largest jailer of journalists.

As the Internet continues to grow and more and more people around the world have access to the Internet, more people are getting their news online. Nowhere is this truer than in China. This is a fact that the Chinese Government has not overlooked. And that is why 18 of the 29 jailed journalists worked online, according to CPJ. Reporters Without Borders lists China as jailing an additional 50 "cyber-dissidents.''

China's list includes imprisoned Internet journalist Shi Tao, an award-winning journalist who is serving a 10-year sentence for e-mailing details of a government propaganda directive to an overseas Web site. We'll talk more about Shi Tao later tonight.

But the list of China's unenviable distinctions when it comes to press freedom and the jailing of journalists includes one other significant fact: CPA lists China as having the longest-serving journalists in jail. Chen Renjie and Lin Youping were jailed in China in July, 1983, for publishing a pamphlet titled Ziyou Bao Freedom Report.

And their co-defendant, Chen Biling was executed. We will profile these journalists later tonight as well.

Journalists in China are also held in appalling conditions. Prison is never pleasant no matter what country you are in, but Reporters Without Borders reports that journalists in jail in China frequently experience the harshest of conditions. They are placed in overcrowded cells, subjected to forced labor and regularly beaten by their guards and fellow prisoners. This ill treatment is at its worst in the first weeks in custody when police try to extract confessions. Many of the charges weighed against journalists in China are trumped up. For Americans, these charges are pretty unimaginable. To give you some perspective on why some of the journalists are sitting in jail right now, I am going to briefly mention a few of their cases.

These cases are examples of journalists being jailed for what we in the West would consider responsible journalism. I wouldn't even get into some of the other journalism we see here, as well the rest of the world, but for laudable journalism, for journalism we would applaud in this country, these journalists are being jailed. Zhang Jianhong, for example, the former editor of the now closed news website Aegean Sea, was arrested in 2006 and charged with "inciting subversion'' for posting an essay criticizing China's human rights record and the poor treatment of journalists, ironically ahead of the Olympic games.

Lawyer Yan Maodong, who also calls himself Guo Feixiong, and his picture is here as well in the upper right-hand corner, was arrested in September of 2006 because of his critical writings and human rights activism. He was officially accused of selling a book using a false publishing reference, but he says the book's content was what the government objected to. But imagine being jailed since September of 2006 on the charges of using a false publishing reference.

According to the New York Times, Guo had repeatedly called on China's Communist party leadership to liberalize the political system. His wife and supporters in the international human rights community have said that Guo has been tortured in custody and that the police coerced him to confess to a nonpolitical crime. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison in November of 2007 for "illegal commercial activity.''

The New York Times has also reported that a Tibetan scholar, Dolma Kyab, Dolma's picture is here to my far right, has been jailed since 2005 after writing an unapproved history of Tibet. Reporters Without Borders reports that Dolma was sentenced to 10 years in prison at a secret trial on September 16, 2005, by the Lhasa People's Intermediate Court for "endangering state security'' and for alleging spying. He managed to smuggle a letter out of prison in September 2005 to the U.N. Human Rights Commission saying he had been jailed for writing about democracy, freedom and the situation in Tibet.

Zheng Yichun is another illustration of the problem in China. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison followed by 3 years of deprivation of political rights for writing a series of editorials that directly criticized the Communist party and its control of the media.

Li Changqing, a journalist for the Fuzhou Daily, was sentenced to 3 years in prison for "spreading false and alarmist information'' when he reported about a 2004 dengue fever outbreak.

In May 2006, Internet writer Yang Tongyan was sentenced to 12 years in prison for posting articles on overseas Web sites in which he simply called for the release of Chinese dissidents.

In July 2006, Li Yuanlong, a reporter for the Bijie Daily, was sentenced to 2 years in prison after he posted essays on foreign Web sites in which he discussed the harsh living conditions of peasants in the Guizhou province.

Yu Huafeng, I believe we have Yu's picture right here to my immediate right, was the deputy editor and general manager of the Nanfang Dushi Bao, Southern Metropolitan News. He was detained less than a month after the newspaper reported a suspected SARS case in Guangzhou, the first case since the epidemic died out in July 2003. Thankfully, Mr. Huafeng was released earlier this year when his sentence was reduced.

Zi Beijia, of Beijing TV, was sentenced by the Beijing Number 2 Intermediate Court to a year in prison for the unusual crime of "infringing on the reputation of a commodity.'' That is really quite remarkable. Zi's arrest came amid widespread international reports about food and product safety defects in China. After the arrest, CPJ research found that domestic news reports about consumer safety were noticeably tamer.

Imagine in this country if you could jail a journalist for infringing on the reputation of a commodity, for taking issue with the safety of a child's toy, lead paint, the safety of a train or an air bag. Imagine if you could be jailed for that. And you can imagine the situation that occurs in present day China.

Wu Lihong, an environmental activist, was jailed after criticizing the ongoing polluting of Lake Taihu, the country's third biggest lake and a major source of drinking water in the eastern province of Jiangsu. He also denounced the uncontrolled dumping of industrial waste by privatized city-owned firms. After being hounded by police and local organizations, he was arrested in April 2007 and thrown in jail, accused of demanding money from the firms. He was tortured during interrogations and not allowed any defense witnesses at his trial. He was sentenced to 3 years in prison for theft and extortion.

And again, it is hard to imagine what it would be like in this country if reporting about contamination of drinking water or dumping of toxics into a lake would end you up in prison for a matter of years without any ability to present the defense. And unfortunately, that is the situation that Wu Lihong found himself in.

An outbreak of disease, government corruption, public safety concerns, to me these are stories that the press should be reporting. Indeed, in terms of the interests of the Chinese people, these are stories the Chinese people need to know. These are the stories that the public has the right to know about, and the press has an obligation to report. Articles like these were exactly what the framers of our Constitution had in mind when they drafted the First Amendment. This is exactly what Thomas Jefferson said and had in mind when he said that "no government ought to be without censors,'' in his case he was meaning critics, "and where the press is free, no one ever will.''

The Chinese Government is not censoring the press out of national security concerns, but instead to shield itself from what a free press might uncover about corruption, inefficiency, human rights abuses, environmental issues, health problems or any other afflictions that might accompany authoritarian rule.

China's censorship and intimidation of media are not limited to Chinese journalists. Freedom House has also highlighted the convictions of two Chinese journalists working for the Beijing bureau of the New York Times and Ching Cheong, a correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times in China. Their convictions may have been intended to intimidate foreign correspondents and newspapers. According to Reporters Sans Frontieres, there were at least 25 incidents of arrests, threats or assaults against members of the foreign press in 2006 alone.

So not only is the government in China jailing journalists to keep information from its own people, but it is also seeking to censor information to the rest of the world.

With this understanding of how and why the Chinese Government has sought to jail journalists, I think it is important now to profile some of the most egregious cases. The reporters involved here are true profiles in courage. These journalists knew the consequences of their writings in advance of their publication. And yet these Chinese journalists believe so strongly that all citizens deserve access to information, that they are willing to put their freedom on the line to better inform the public. These journalists ought to be commended for their work, not jailed. And that is what we are doing here tonight. We are saying "thank you'' to all the brave Chinese journalists, Eritrean journalists, Cuban journalists, and all other journalists around the world who have risked their safety and freedom to spread valuable information around their countries and around the world, information that we benefit from.

The concept of censorship of the media can be so strange to us here in America that we often don't realize that journalism can cost one his or her freedom or even their life, as we have seen in Russia and indeed in China. So let's go to some of these profiles.

I would like to start the profiles tonight with the leading activist named Hu Jia who called for greater attention to human rights around the Olympics and was arrested on January 30 of this year according to Human Rights Watch. Press Freedom--and Hu is pictured to my right--and human rights organizations are concerned that Hu is being prosecuted simply for exercising his rights to freedom of opinion and expression. At issue is an open letter that he co-authored calling for the international community to look beyond the veneer put in place in Beijing for the Olympics and to seriously examine the extent to which China had fulfilled the promises it made to improve human rights in advance of the games.

Three months after publication of this letter, Hu was arrested at his home. On April 3, 2008, he was sentenced to 3 years' imprisonment for "incitement to subvert state power,'' a charge regularly leveled against activists and dissidents.

Reporters Without Borders has reported that Chinese authorities have prevented Hu from appealing his sentence. One of his lawyers, Li Fangping, was refused permission to see him 10 days after the sentence was handed down. The authorities said he was undergoing a "medical examination'' prior to entering prison. He was again refused permission to see him on a later date on the grounds that the deadline for filing the appeal had already expired.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Li wanted to give him official documents related to his appeal which he urgently needed for him to sign. But the guards refused without giving any reason. Hu has not been allowed to take any telephone calls, and his family is very worried about the state of his health. The plight of Hu has been recognized by leaders around the world. Earlier this year, it was reported then when our Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, met with President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in Beijing, she raised human rights issues and voiced concern about the situation of political prisoners of Hu and Shi Tao, whom I will speak about next. The following day, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao insisted that Hu was being detained legally.

Earlier this year, the Paris City Council named Hu an honorary citizen of Paris. This title was bestowed on Hu for his work as an activist on behalf of human rights, free expression, the environment, and HIV/AIDS sufferers.

Other people to have been declared honorary citizens of Paris include Ingrid Betancourt, a Colombian politician with French citizenship currently a hostage of FARC guerillas, and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Next I would like to profile Shi Tao. The Chinese Government often uses vaguely worded laws to detain journalists, dissidents and others in the peaceful exercise of their right of free expression, including those arrested for the legitimate use of the Internet. This is despite the fact that the right to freedom of expression is protected in China's constitution.

One of the many unfortunate examples of this practice is the continued imprisonment of Shi Tao--his photograph exhibited here--a journalist and poet imprisoned solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression and his right to seek, receive and impart information.

Shi, the former editorial director at the Changsha-based newspaper Dangdai Shang Bao, was detained near his home in Taiyuan in the Shanxi province. In April 2004, Mr. Tao sent an e-mail from his Yahoo account to a U.S.-based pro-democracy website in which he summarized a government order directing media organizations in China to downplay the upcoming 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.

In the anonymous e-mail sent several months before his arrest, Shi transcribed his notes from the local propaganda department instructions to the newspaper which included directives on coverage of the Falun Gong and the upcoming 15th anniversary of the military crackdown on demonstrators at Tiananmen Square. The official Xinhua News Agency reported that the National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets later certified the contents of the e-mail as classified, later certified them as classified.

On the basis of this e-mail, police arrested Shi 6 months later in November of 2004, charging him with "illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities,'' as if Chinese efforts to downplay or fail to report on Tiananmen were somehow a state secret. On April 27, 2005 the Changsha Intermediate People's Court found Shi guilty and sentenced him to a 10-year prison term in June.

In June, the Hunan Province High People's Court rejected his appeal without granting a hearing. Court documents in the case revealed that Yahoo had supplied information to Chinese authorities that helped them identify Shi as the sender of the e-mail. In November of 2005 CPJ honored Shi with its annual Internation Press Freedom Award for his courage and defending the ideals of free expression.

On June 4, 2007 the 18th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, Shi received an additional honor, the Golden Pen of Freedom Award. The award is the annual press freedom prize from the World Association of Newspapers, which is based in Paris and is the global organization for the newspaper industry. It has awarded the Golden Pen annually since 1961.

Shi also was presented with PEN New England's Vasyl Stus Award in 2006. The award is presented to a writer who has been persecuted for the peaceful expression of his or her views and whose courage in the face of censorship and oppression has been exemplary.

This award is named after the poet, Vasyl Stus, who became a leading voice of his generation and who was also the last Ukranian writer to die in the Soviet Gulag. Unfortunately, all of these awards are presented in absentia due to Mr. Shi's continued incarceration. His mother accepted the Golden Pen of Freedom award from WAN on his behalf in June of last year.

At the awards ceremony she expressed what the award meant to both her and her son when she stated, "In China, he was taken as a criminal, but today WAN, made up of over 100 newspaper organizations, awards him the Golden Pen of Freedom. It is not only an honor but also a huge comfort to Shi Tao.

"It proves that my son is indeed innocent. He has only done what a courageous journalist should do. That is why he has got the support and the sympathy from his colleagues all over the world who uphold justice.

"Here and now, I am able to stand on the stage on behalf of my son.''

What an arduous journey it has been to tell you the truth. I can't believe it is true, and even the best human language in the world cannot express the gratitude from the mother and son.

It's good to know that awards like these help provide at least a little comfort for journalists like Shi. But, more importantly, these awards should raise awareness surrounding press freedom abuses around the world. Mr. Shi is clearly deserving of all these accolades. The Chinese people and citizens around the world are thankful for his dedication to true journalism.

Next I am going to speak about two dedicated Chinese journalists who have been detained longer than any journalists in the world today, Chen Renjie and Lin Youping. Twenty-four years after their imprisonment in the early days of China's economic reform, Chen Renjie and Lin Youping have been in prison longer than any journalists in CPJ's worldwide census.

The two men, along with Chen Biling, wrote and published a pamphlet entitled Ziyou Bao (Freedom Report). They distributed 300 copies of the pamphlet in the southern Chinese City of Fuzhou, Fujian province, in September, 1982.

The following July, they were arrested and accused of making contact with Taiwanese spy groups and publishing a counterrevolutionary pamphlet. According to government official records of the case, the men used "propaganda and incitement to encourage the overthrow of the people's democratic dictatorship and the socialist system.''

In August, 1983, Chen was sentenced to life in prison and Lin was sentenced to death with reprieve. Chen Biling was sentenced to death and later executed.

Their case is so old, and with the lack of an independent and open media, we have had a hard time finding out more information about Chen Renjie and Lin. However, I would be remiss if I did not pay special attention to highlight these two reporters who have endured more time in jail, due to their effort to share information, than any other journalist today.

The last topic I want to focus on tonight is Internet censorship. According to Freedom House, China is the world's second largest population of Internet users after the United States, with an estimated 210 million people online, or just under 16 percent of the country's population.

However, access to China, to the Internet in China, is not the same as access to the Internet here in America. Freedom House's 2008 press freedom survey reported that last year in China was marked by additional Internet restrictions, as well as the jailing of more online journalists and bloggers.

According to their findings in 2007, at least nine additional journalists and online writers were detained during the year for information they had published on the Internet, particularly on U.S.-based independent Chinese news Web sites. In China, Web sites that have not established or not been established by an official news outlet such as a newspaper or broadcaster are forbidden from gathering or editing their own news or commentary.

Legally, they can only reproduce material that has passed through sensors at approved media organizations. As we have mentioned tonight, all media in China are government controlled.

China is not the only country to manage public opinion by controlling the Internet. As of 2007, CPJ had documented Internet censorship in 22 countries worldwide, but China was first to launch a comprehensive program to censor online speech and to monitor e-mail and text messaging. Its censorship program is so expansive and technically sophisticated that countries such as Vietnam, Zimbabwe, and Thailand have adopted its practices.

This gets back to what I have referred to earlier tonight, the fact that because of its prominence China sets an example, for good or for bad, in this case, regrettably, for ill. Due to technological advancements and the efforts of overseas activists, the Chinese government attempt to suppress information has become more difficult, but that has not stopped the government's efforts to censor online information.

Many have referred to Internet restrictions in China as the "Great Firewall of China.'' The government employs extensive surveillance and filtering systems to prevent Internet users from accessing material that the government considers obscene, harmful to national unity or politically subversive.

In May of 2007 Reporters Without Borders launched a Web site in Chinese, and it was blocked within hours of going live. Additionally, all IP addresses linked to a Web site deemed undesirable are blocked without warning.

As the web has become a new forum to distribute information, the Chinese government continues to create new laws to suppress the free flow of information on the Internet. In the 5 years after China first allowed private Internet accounts in 1995, it has issued more than 60 sets of regulations to tighten its control of online content.

These regulations continue today. In 2005 the government introduced new regulations that bar Web sites from distributing information that violates Chinese constitutional provisions, endangers national security, encourages illegal strikes or promotes unrecognized religious groups. In March of 2007 the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Information Industries banned the opening of new Internet cafes, 113,000 were in existence at the time.

Many times Internet censorship is used as a political tool. Internet censorship in China increased prior to and during the 17th Party Congress in October of last year, during which the party leadership for the next 5 years was endorsed. Between April and September, access to over 18,000 Web sites was blocked.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that in September of 2007, security agencies in several regions ordered Internet data centers, which host large numbers of Web sites and blogs, to suspend their service, or disable interactive features such as bulletin boards and comment sections during the Congress' meeting.

In an apparent effort to overcome difficulties monitoring audio-visual content with automated filtering technology, the government issued a regulation requiring Web sites with audio visual context to apply for permits. I guess that would pretty well put YouTube and other like Web sites out of business.

The regulation, which affects approximately 60,000 sites in China, also banned audio-visual content deemed to fall into vaguely defined categories such as opposing the principles of the People's Republic of China constitution, harming national unity, contributing to ethnic divisions or disrupting social harmony.

So if there were entrepreneurs who wanted to start a Chinese version of YouTube, unless they register, unless YouTube registers, that would be prohibited. Indeed the content on those sites would be strictly scrutinized by the Chinese government. According to Freedom House, in some instances restrictions were imposed on a local level, after bloggers supported a protest against construction of a chemical factory.

Near the southern City of Xiamen, the local government adopted measures requiring Internet users to provide their real names when posting material on more than 100,000 Web sites registered in the city. The Chinese government demands that individual service providers monitor content. These providers filter searches, block Web sites, delete content and monitor e-mail traffic.

The Chinese language search engines of many U.S. firms filter search results and restrict access to information about topics deemed sensitive by the government. These include searches such as Falun Gong, Tibetan independence, and human rights.

U.S. filters have to adopt certain restrictions. U.S. sites, like YouTube and others, are subject to the same scrutiny. In 2007, more than 20 companies, some American, were forced to sign a self-disciplined pact which forces them to censor the content to blogs they host in China as bloggers to provide their real identity and to delete postings considered illegal and unhealthy.

Despite all this discouraging news there is a silver lining, though, the government's efforts are not foolproof. Brave and determined bloggers continually pop up, change addresses, hide behind proxy servers, and use a range of tactics to side-step government censorship and spread good information to the Chinese public.

But it's our hope that these bloggers and our journalists someday will not have to use these extreme measures. We would like to see China reconsider its regulation and censorship of the media. As we mentioned at the outset tonight, press freedom provides a valuable, economic and social benefit that is in China's best interest to ensure free and independent media.

We in this country have a great admiration for the Chinese people. They are extraordinarily talented, gifted, resourceful people with a great future ahead of them. It's our sincere view that we do no service to our relationship with China not to encourage in the most forceful way freedom of the press in that country.

We hope, many of us, that the Olympic Games would give China that opportunity to move forward and make progress, and we are disappointed that we have not seen that progress that the Chinese government representative would make, and, yet, we push forward.

Tonight we think about those journalists, some held longer than any others in China, and we urge the Chinese government to step forward to recognize the benefits to China itself of a free press and free media, to free journalists who are imprisoned for doing work important to the Chinese people.

We hope that these efforts will be undertaken soon, that some of the journalists that we profiled here tonight will be released back into the warmth of their own families and their own homes, whether they are in China or Eritrea or in Cuba or in so many parts of the world. That is our fond hope and desire and the raison d'etre of our caucus on freedom of the press.

Skip to top

Help us stay free for all your Fellow Americans

Just $5 from everyone reading this would do it.

Back to top