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China’s elders demand free speech

world Updated: Oct 14, 2010 02:47 IST
Chinese Communist Party

In the boldest domestic censure of the Chinese Communist Party's rule in recent times, 23 retired officials and former editors of the state-run media, including a former secretary to Mao Zedong, have issued an online letter demanding freedom of speech.

“For our nation to advertise itself as having ‘socialist democracy’ with Chinese characteristics is such an embarrassment,” it said, according to a translation by Hong Kong University. “Not only the average citizen, but even the most senior leaders of the Communist Party have no freedom of speech or press.”

The letter, timed before an important Party meeting on Friday, is addressed to the National People’s Congress, the Chinese parliament. The Party elders who drafted it no longer have direct influence on policy making but their appeal reflects growing discontent over the pace of reforms in China.

The Party will be embarrassed by this group protest that refutes its propaganda by pointing out that constitutional free speech is restrained even for Premier Wen Jiabao.

The letter was blocked on Chinese websites. The writers do not refer to the Nobel Peace Prize for jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, whose prize Beijing has condemned as a western plot.

The letter details how Premier Wen’s recent speeches were censored to purge references to ‘political reform,’ reflecting a divide within the elite. “This is the work of invisible hands,” it said. “What right does the central propaganda department have to muzzle the Premier’s speech? What right does it have to rob people of our nation of their right to know what the Premier said?”

The signatories call China’s ‘false democracy’ a ‘scandalous mark on the history of world democracy’. Wang Yongcheng, a retired professor who signed the letter, told AP it was inspired by the recent arrest of a journalist who wrote about corruption. “If the constitution is violated, the government will lack legitimacy,” Wang said.

Their core demand is to ease censorship, allow an independent media, and remove taboos on sensitive chapters of Chinese history because ‘citizens have a right to know the errors of the ruling Party’. “Our system of censoring is 315 years behind Britain and 129 years behind France,” it said, adding that even Hong Kong has more freedom.