02/18/2006, 00.00
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Intellectuals tell Hu Jintao: "We are worried about freedom of speech"

In an open letter, a group of 13 academics expressed their views about the "worrying situation of the freedom of speech and academic freedom in China". "The government should realise that allowing people to talk can only help to understand them better."

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – A group of 13 Chinese intellectuals yesterday expressed "concern" about freedom of speech and academic freedom in the country, in an open letter addressed to the President, Hu Jintao and other members of the Politburo. Academic professors, He Weifang and Cui Weiping, lawyer Jiang Xiaoyang , sociologist Qin Hui, writer Zhang Yihe and historian Zhu Xueqin were among the signatories.

The group decided to write the day after the reopening of the Bingdian Weekly – a weekly supplement of the government paper, China Youth Daily – was announced. The weekly was shut down some days ago by the Communist Party's Propaganda Department. The closure followed the publication of an article by the Chinese historian, Yuan Weishi, criticizing Beijing's historic revisionism. The management has allowed the reopening of the weekly, but sacked the director, Li Datong, and the editor-in-chief, Lu Yuegang.

In the letter, circulated via email, the 13 liberal intellectuals maintained that freedom of expression was a "basic right" which also included the right to "make wrong speech". The intellectuals criticized the Propaganda Department of the Party's Youth League, saying that "if they disliked articles published, they could have written more articles to argue back, instead of shutting the author up in an unconstitutional way."

The decision to close down the Bingdian was described as "illegal and irrational, a move which deprived citizens of the fundamental right of speech and the constitutional right to a free press". The intellectuals added: "Today, the attack was directed at Professor Yuan, tomorrow it could strike any other academic.

"The Hu administration should realise that in a society like ours, at such a transitional stage, the public ... urgently needs a channel to express opinions freely: this need should not be feared, as it inevitably would help officials to better know the true nature of social problems".

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