Wed, Nov 05, 2003 - Page 5 News List

China urged to release Web rebel

REUTERS , BEIJING

Several dozen Chinese academics and reporters have called on Beijing to release detained "cyber-dissident" Du Daobin and protect freedom of speech.

In an open letter addressed to Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶), some of the activists said the late-October detention of Internet essayist Du was groundless, a copy obtained by reporters yesterday said.

"We express our deep regret over the matter," the letter said. "We request the highest executive authorities take lawful measures to instruct the relevant authorities to liberate Du Daobin."

Du, a civil servant from the central province of Hubei, was taken into custody by plainclothes state security agents on Oct. 28, accused of "subverting state power."

He had signed an online petition and repeatedly called for the release of fellow cyber-dissident Liu Di, a female psychology student from Beijing Normal University who was detained in the capital in November last year. Liu has been held incommunicado since.

More than 50 people had also signed an open statement calling for the protection of freedom of speech, technically granted in the Chinese Constitution but severely curtailed in China, Beijing-based liberal writer Yu Jie said.

"We think Mr Du Daobin's detention is a major event and is greatly harmful to freedom of speech in China," Yu said.

"Any of us writers and academics could at any time run up against what he has encountered, so we cannot remain silent on this affair."

Du's essays are banned in China, but have been published on overseas portals.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also weighed in to the debate with a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) protesting against Du's arrest.

The press freedom watchdog said it was "gravely concerned that his arrest could mark an escalation in the continuing crackdown on online speech in China."

"CPJ condemns your government's draconian effort to silence any speech that is critical of government policy," it said.

The arrest of Du and several others who posted comments on the Internet "demonstrates that your administration is still willing to manipulate the law for political purposes," it said.

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