Beijing (AFP) Oct 13, 2010
A group of former top communist officials and media leaders has issued an open letter to China's government calling for political reform, but authorities have attempted to suppress the appeal.
The bluntly-worded letter focused on the lack of freedom of expression and comes as the Communist Party readies for a pivotal meeting later this week expected to give hints on the country's future political direction.
"If the Communist Party does not reform itself, does not transform, it will lose its vitality and die a natural death," said the letter which was posted on the Internet.
The letter has since been deleted from chatrooms on major portals, apparently by government censors, but was still popping up in some more obscure chat rooms.
It pointedly called for the government to give editors and journalists the freedom to report without restrictions and to end a system in which media and book content must be reviewed by censors before it is published.
It also called for an end to the "arbitrary" deleting of web content by censors. China's government operates a vast censorship system that blocks material deemed a threat to the primacy of the Communist Party.
"China's citizens have the right to know the ruling party's sins," the letter said.
It was signed by 23 people including Li Rui, former personal secretary to Mao Zedong and former deputy head of a powerful department within the party, and Hu Jiwei, a former editor of the People's Daily, the party's mouthpiece.
Several other signatories are known for their reformist sympathies.
China's restrictions on freedom of expression have come under renewed scrutiny after dissident political reform advocate Liu Xiaobo, jailed in December for 11 years on subversion charges, won the Nobel Peace Prize Friday.
Speculation about turmoil within the party's ranks also has heightened after Premier Wen Jiabao, widely viewed as a less-hardline voice in the party, made remarks in August supporting political reform.
He made similar remarks in a CNN television interview that was aired earlier this month but was blocked in China.
The party holds its annual four-day plenum starting Friday, with speculation mounting over whether some type of reform would be on the agenda.
earlier related report
The comments came as Liu's lawyers said they were considering asking for a retrial of the jailed dissident, the co-author of a manifesto calling for bold democratic reforms in the communist state who won the prestigious award Friday.
"Some politicians from other countries are trying to use this opportunity to attack China," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told reporters, adding the Nobel committee's decision "shows no respect for China's judicial system".
"If some people try to change China's political system in this way and try to stop the Chinese people from moving forward, that is a big mistake," Ma said.
The 54-year-old Liu, a one-time university professor, was jailed in December 2009 for 11 years on subversion charges -- a conviction that sparked international outrage.
The United States, one of many countries that again called for Liu's immediate release following the announcement of the prize, on Tuesday expressed concern about the situation of his wife, who says she is under house arrest.
"We remain concerned by multiple reports that Liu Xia is being confined to her home in Beijing," the spokesman for the US embassy in Beijing, Richard Buangan, said in a statement.
"We continue to follow closely Liu Xia's situation. Her rights should be respected, and she should be allowed to move freely without harassment," he said.
"We urge China to uphold its international human rights obligations and to respect the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all Chinese citizens."
Liu Xia has said via her Twitter account that she has been under house arrest since the Oslo-based Nobel committee honoured her husband, before and after she visited him in prison in the northeast to tell him the news.
Her husband's lawyer Shang Baojun told AFP that she remained under house arrest on Tuesday.
Shang said Liu Xia and the legal team were considering asking for a retrial of the Nobel laureate before a higher court.
"Liu Xia wants to appeal for a retrial. We are still deciding which way to go about it," Shang, who managed to speak to her when he called her brother, told AFP.
"If we do it, of course our defence will be based on a plea of not guilty."
Rights groups and leaders from around the world -- including US President Barack Obama, last year's Nobel peace laureate -- have lauded the choice of Liu as this year's honoree.
China has warned that ties with Norway, where the prize is based, could suffer as a result.
So far, Chinese authorities have cancelled two meetings scheduled for this week in Beijing with a Norwegian fisheries minister, the government in Oslo said.
"By supporting the wrong decision of the Norwegian Nobel committee, the Norwegian government has moved to hurt bilateral relations," Ma said Tuesday.
Relatives of victims of the bloody suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests on Tuesday also joined calls to let Liu walk free.
In an open letter, the Tiananmen Mothers praised Liu for his long struggle to promote democracy and law in China through peaceful, rational and non-violent means, one of the signatories, Zhang Xianling, told AFP.
"We ask the central authorities to immediately release Liu Xiaobo," she said. "He has fought with and supported the Tiananmen Mothers for over 20 years, he has always stood beside us and today we are standing by him."
Liu helped negotiate the safe exit from Tiananmen Square of thousands of student demonstrators before tanks crushed the six weeks of peaceful protests in the heart of Beijing on June 3-4, 1989.
He was previously jailed for his involvement in the Tiananmen movement.
The US-based group Human Rights in China quoted Liu as telling his wife over the weekend that he had dedicated the award to "the lost souls of June fourth".
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China News from SinoDaily.com
Beijing (AFP) Oct 12, 2010
China said Tuesday that the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Liu Xiaobo would not influence the country's political system, as the United States urged Beijing to lift restrictions on the activist's wife. The comments came as Liu's lawyers said they were considering asking for a retrial of the jailed dissident, the co-author of a manifesto calling for bold democratic reforms in the communist stat ... read more
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