Letter to President Obama Calls for Release of Chinese Prisoners of Conscience | Freedom House

Letter to President Obama Calls for Release of Chinese Prisoners of Conscience

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June 5, 2013

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We write as a diverse group of organizations and individuals to urge you to call for the release of the attached list of prisoners of conscience during your upcoming bilateral summit with President Xi Jinping of China.

The “China 16” leaders whose cases we cite are representative of thousands of men and women in China who, at great cost and peril to themselves and their families, have courageously spoken for the freedom of all – in China and, as a result, for the world at large.  By raising the cases of these sixteen – a number we have chosen because the number eight represents good luck in Chinese culture – we believe that you will at least double their chances for freedom, and will greatly enhance the prospects for freedom of similarly situated prisoners of conscience.

The China 16 on whose immediate behalf we write reflect the diversity of groups in China who have been targeted for persecution by their own government: human rights attorneys, pro-democracy activists, Tibetans, Christians, Uyghurs, Falun Gong practitioners, and even a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.  They include individuals who have been imprisoned for as long as ten years, and many now suffer from serious health problems while being denied access to adequate treatment or even visitation from family members. Many of the China 16 have close family members living in the United States. In all cases, their imprisonment has been ordered because they are perceived to challenge the Chinese government’s tight grip on power.

According to the State Department’s 2012 Human Rights report, “[r]epression and coercion, particularly against organizations and individuals involved in rights advocacy and public interest issues, are routine.”   The report further found that the Chinese Communist Party has committed a wide range of human rights abuses, including “extrajudicial killings, including executions without due process;” “enforced disappearance and incommunicado detention;” “torture and coerced confessions of prisoners;” “detention and harassment of lawyers, journalists, writers . . . and others;” “a lack of due process in judicial proceedings;” “restrictions on freedom to assemble, practice religion, and travel;” “discrimination against women, minorities, and persons with disabilities;” “a coercive birth-limitation policy that in some cases resulted in forced abortion (sometimes at advanced stages of pregnancy) or forced sterilization;” “trafficking in persons;” and “the use of forced labor, including prison labor.”

Moreover, the State Department has designated China as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act.  In this regard, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recently recommended that the designation be reissued, noting that “[r]eligious groups and individuals considered to threaten national security or social harmony, or whose practices are deemed beyond the vague legal definition of ‘normal religious activities,’ are illegal and face severe restrictions, harassment, detention, imprisonment, and other abuses.” Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, and Falun Gong practitioners were identified as widely persecuted religious groups.

Our initiative on behalf of the China 16 is intended to match brave and suffering faces to the abuses now taking place in China against lawyers, academics, writers, businessmen, and religious and political leaders, who carry with them the hope for a more peaceful 21st century for all. As such, each of the China 16 merits a strong voice – not only from civil society and the media but, perhaps most importantly, from you as our President.  By giving voice and standing up for the China 16, you will signal to China that its relations with the United States will be greatly affected by how it treats them, and that improved relations with the United States will follow the release of the China 16 and other prisoners of conscience.

The United States has long and successfully made a robust commitment to the human rights of prisoners of conscience a critical component of our foreign policy. Not even the innumerable serious issues that surrounded the Cold War prevented American administrations from directly pressing Soviet leaders to respect the rights of Soviet Jews, Pentecostals, and others -- a priority that enhanced rather than detracted from the satisfactory resolution of the full range of U.S.-Soviet bilateral relations.  America’s relationship with China must be no different, and our implacable support of the China 16 is based on the premise that U.S. disinterest in the peaceful advancement of such basic values as liberty and the rule of law profoundly disserves both our values and our interests.

We urge you to raise the cases of the China 16 when you meet with President Xi Jinping at your upcoming summit, and to insist upon their release.


Ed Brown
Senior Human Rights Advisor
Stefanus Alliance, Norway

Ann Buwalda Executive Director
Jubilee Campaign – USA

Daniel Calingaert
Executive Vice President
Freedom House

Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D.
Director and Senior Fellow
The Beverly LaHaye Institute
Concerned Women for America

Dan Fefferman
International Coalition for Religious Freedom

Zhou Fengsuo
Humanitarian China

Bob Fu
Founder and President
China Aid

Jared Genser
Freedom Now

Dr. Yang Jianli
Citizen Power for China / Initiatives for China

Rebiya Kadeer
World Uyghur Congress

Metodija A. Koloski
United Macedonian Diaspora

Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett
Lantos Foundation

Dr. Charles Lee
Global Service Center for Quitting the Chinese Communist Party

Larry Lerner
Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union

Terri E. Marsh
Executive Director
Human Rights Law Foundation

Brent McBurney
President & CEO
Advocates International

Faith J. H. McDonnell
Religious Liberty Program Institute on Religion and Democracy

Greg Mitchell
The Mitchell Firm

Dr. Russell Moore
Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Sen Nieh
U.S. Liaison
Global Mission to Rescue Persecuted Falun Gong Practitioners

Hu Ping
Beijing Spring

Senge Sering
Institute for Gilgit Baltistan Studies

Alim Seytoff, Esq.
Uyghur American Association

Danny Smith
Founder and International Director
Jubilee Campaign – UK

Todd Stein
Director of Government Relations
International Campaign for Tibet

Rev. Susan Taylor
Church of Scientology National Affairs Office

Mervyn Thomas
Chief Executive
Christian Solidarity Worldwide

William C. Walsh
Bisceglie and Walsh

Zhang Xiaogang

Sheng Xue
Federation for a Democratic China