Mr. Baker: Don't Give China Media Victory Beijing's Crackdown on Journalists and Other Advocates of Free Speech and Democracy Continues Unabated

Article excerpt

WHEN Secretary of State James A. Baker III visits Beijing tomorrow he will be the highest-level American official to do so since the government's June 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. China's geron- tocracy hopes the visit will mark a return to business as usual: trade ties mended, diplomatic relations restored, human rights trangressions conveniently ignored.

This is the interpretation that will be presented in the official media to hundreds of millions of Chinese who have access to no other news. For this very reason, Secretary Baker must do everything possible to correct the impression that all is forgiven.

Since June 1989, there has been a systematic and chilling suppression of all forms of dissent in China. Dozens of publications have been closed by the government, including ones that called for bold economic reforms in the late 1980s. According to research conducted by the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 20 journalists have been arrested; while a few have been released, others remain imprisoned without charge. Many more journalists have been suspended from work and are under official investigation. They have no means of support and can't seek other jobs. At People's Daily, the party's flagship paper with a circulation of 5 million, at least 50 editors and reporters have been fired, demoted, or ordered to distant provinces. The new editor-in-chief, Shao Huaze, gained his journalism experience as head of a People's Liberation Army propaganda unit.

Hundreds of pro-democracy activists have been jailed for crimes that range from shouting slogans to painting banners. Two of the most famous political prisoners, Wang Juntao and Chen Ziming, are serving 13-year sentences. Wang, editor of the now-banned Economic Studies Weekly, and Chen, its publisher, had organized a march in Beijing by journalists calling for a relaxation of rules that curtailed press coverage of student demonstrations. During their trial, which human rights critics decried as a mockery of justice, the two were vilified as the "black hands" behind the 1989 demonstrations at Tiananmen Square.

China's government exerts stringent ideological control over those journalists they do not jail or fire. In a manner eerily reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, journalists are forced to write self-criticisms. This year, in fact, the All-China Journalists Association reaffirmed the need for a press that upheld Marxist-Leninist thought. …


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