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Freedom of expression its not pumpkin pie

So, President Obama mentioned human rights when he met the Chinese president. Heck, President Hu Jintao even says China and the US will meet to discuss human rights.

Job done. Amnesty’s happy, right?

Well, not quite. Without wanting to appear churlish, talking about human rights is one thing but effecting real change is something else entirely. Here are a few things China should do to demonstrate its commitment to human rights:

• Abolish ‘Re-education through labour’.

• Independently investigate the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

• Lift all restrictions and obstacles to freedom of worship.

• End the repression of Tibetans and Uighurs.

We wrote an open letter to President Obama ahead of his visit to China reminding him that he had a responsibility to push publicly for an improvement in China’s poor human rights record during his visit. Speaking to university students in Shanghai and when meeting President Hu, President Obama referred to his belief that all men and women possess certain fundamental human rights.

Good, but the Daily Mail pointed out that George W Bush often talked of the ‘universality of freedom’. Even when treading a fine diplomatic line, words are easy.

Among the specific cases we urged President Obama to raise was that of Shi Tao, a journalist sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for forwarding an email to a US-based website.

Perhaps Shi Tao was in his mind when he talked at length about the Internet to those students. “I’m a big supporter of non-censorship,” he is reported to have said, but going on to add: “I recognise that different countries have different traditions.”

China and America have many different traditions but freedom of expression, on the Internet and elsewhere, is a human right, not a tradition like turkey and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, or firecrackers and dancing dragons at Chinese New Year.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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