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Asia

Open letter to Chinese leaders from former officials

A group of former Communist Party officials, academics and state media editors, most of them now in retirement, have come out with a strong plea for full freedom of speech in China.

A picture of Premier Wen Jiabao on the title page of a Chinese newspaper

A picture of Premier Wen Jiabao on the title page of a Chinese newspaper

A group of former Communist Party officials, academics and state media editors, most of them now in retirement, have come out with a strong plea for full freedom of speech in China.

The letter was posted on several Chinese and English websites on Wednesday. It was later deleted from chatrooms on major portals, possibly by government censors, though it continued to crop up in more obscure chat rooms.

Mao's former secretary among the signatories

Mao's former secretary Li Rui is among the signatories

Mao's former secretary Li Rui is among the signatories

The letter lists the names of 23 signatories, among them Li Rui, a former secretary to Mao Zedong, Hu Jiwei, the retired editor-in-chief of the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily, and Jiang Ping, the retired head of the China University of Political Science and Law. Several other signatories are known for their reformist sympathies.

The main thrust of the bluntly worded letter is that the government should implement Article 35 of the Chinese constitution approved in 1982, which allows Chinese citizens "freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration". The "former avowal and concrete denial" of this right is described as "false democracy" in the letter. The signatories call upon the government to give editors and journalists the freedom to report without restrictions and to end the system of censors previewing media and book content.

Worried about the premier's rights

The letter cites recent examples of censorship, going so far as to state: "Even the premier of our country does not have the freedom of speech or of press". Apparently, the official Xinhua news agency did not report comments by Premier Wen Jiabao on political reform made in an important speech last August in the southern city of Shenzhen.

As regards the Communist Party, the letter says that if the party does not reform itself, it will lose its vitality and die a natural death. Chinese citizens have the right to know the errors of the ruling party, the letter says. Leading Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize last Friday, though that event apparently has no direct connection with the group's letter.

ac/dpa/AFP
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

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