Scotland: Amnesty Scotland steps up festival campaign for Chinese writer as new report marks one year until Beijing Olympics

Amnesty International Scotland today (7 August) stepped up its campaign for imprisoned Chinese journalist and poet Shi Tao, as it published a new China report marking ‘one year to go’ until the Beijing Olympics. Amnesty has made Shi Tao the focus of its campaigning at this year’s Edinburgh Festival, asking festival-goers to join an Internet and text message campaign for the 39-year-old writer jailed for sending an email.

Amnesty has been closely monitoring China’s human rights performance after the country’s Olympics bid committee promised improvements in the run-up to the event. Its report, sent to the Chinese authorities and the International Olympic Committee, highlights an ongoing crackdown on journalists, pervasive Internet censorship and other restrictions on freedom of expression – including the closure in recent weeks of a literary forum run by poet Lu Yang called Forum for Contemporary Chinese Poetry.

In Edinburgh, top comedians will call for Shi Tao’s release at Amnesty’s Stand Up For Freedom benefit gigs on 15 and 22 August in association with the Co-operative Bank, and there will be readings from the work of Shi Tao and other imprisoned writers by well-known authors, including Iain Banks and Allan Massie, at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Amnesty is asking people to get online to demand Shi Tao’s freedom at www.amnesty.org.uk/scotland or text the word 'FREEDOM', plus their name and email address to 64118 to join the campaign.

Amnesty International’s Programme Director in Scotland John Watson said:

“The Edinburgh Festival is all about freedom of expression and so is Amnesty – we’re here to tell people about our work to protect free speech around the world.

“What has happened to Shi Tao is a disgrace. We hope that people enjoying the Festival will see the relevance of this case and join our campaign. Standing up for human rights can be as easy as sending a text message.”

Amnesty International’s report also examines the continued use of detention without trial as part of Beijing's "clean up" operations of the city ahead of the games. Several Beijing-based activists are under “house arrest” and tight police surveillance, while activists in other parts of China are also facing heightened patterns of abuse.

Amnesty remains seriously concerned for the safety of imprisoned housing rights activist Ye Guozhu, following reports that he was beaten by guards with electro-shock batons towards the end of last year. Ye Guozhu was sentenced to four years in prison after he tried to organise a demonstration in 2004 against alleged forced evictions in Beijing in connection with preparations for the Olympics. Mr Ye is also serving a ten-month period of ‘discipline’ within Qingyuan prison in connection with his ongoing attempts to appeal against his conviction.

The new report also highlights continued concerns about China’s highly secretive and widespread use of the death penalty. Last year China is known to have executed over 1,000 people - more than all other countries in the world combined - though the authorities refuse to publish official execution statistics and are believed to secretly execute as many as 8,000 prisoners every year (the equivalent of 22 people every day).

Amnesty International is emphasising that these issues are directly relevant to Beijing’s hosting of the Olympics and core principles contained in the Olympic Charter.

Amnesty International’s Programme Director in Scotland John Watson said:

“This report is a disturbing reminder of how far China still has to go to make good its promise to improve human rights in the run-up to the Olympics.

“With journalists like Shi Tao being imprisoned, and with even lawyers and housing rights campaigners locked up for complaining about people evicted from their homes to make way for the games, the situation is extremely serious.

“To put it mildly, China would win no medals for human rights today.

“We’re urging the Chinese government to ensure that Beijing ‘08 will deliver a marvellous Olympic games but also deliver genuine improvements in human rights for China.”

Background

Shi Tao is serving a 10-year sentence with forced labour for sending an email in 2004 summarising a Chinese government communiqué on how journalists should handle the 15th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. More information at www.amnesty.org.uk/shi /p>

On 4 June 2007, Shi Tao’s mother, Gao Qinsheng, accepted the 2007 Golden Pen of Freedom award from the World Association of Newspapers on her son’s behalf. In an emotional speech she said:

‘[This award] is not only an honour 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…’

Pictures of Shi Tao and copies of the new China report are available from Amnesty Scotland.

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