Joint Letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken
Center Human Rights and Plights of Political Prisoners During Upcoming Visit to China
Washington, D.C. (Jan. 31, 2023) — Coalition of U.S.-based civil society organizations representing communities facing oppression of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) issue a joint letter to Secretary of State Blinken ahead of his upcoming visit to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The coalition calls for the Secretary to place human rights and political prisoners detained under the CCP regime center of forthcoming discussions with PRC officials.
The full text is below.
Dear Secretary Blinken:
We are a coalition of civil society organizations representing communities facing oppression by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In light of your upcoming visit to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), we request that you place human rights, and particularly the plight of political prisoners unjustly detained under the CCP regime, at the center of your discussions. The unjust detention of human rights activists, political dissidents, labor organizers, religious practitioners, and ethnic minorities across all territories China controls should, as a matter of U.S. foreign policy, be presented as inseparable from any discussions of collaboration with the PRC, and the release of these prisoners conditional on any improvement of bilateral ties.
As you prepare for your visit, our communities are facing escalating levels of harassment both at home and abroad, while the treatment of political prisoners has only worsened. Those who advocate for them overseas continue to face exacerbating trans-national repression in forms of harassment, attack, and threats.
Following are just some of the notable recent political persecutions taken by the CCP against members of our communities,
In Hong Kong, 47 pro-democracy politicians, whose only “crime” was to participate in a democratic primary election in 2020, will be tried starting next month; most have been held in pre-trial detention for nearly two years. The human rights activist and media mogul Jimmy Lai has been sentenced to over five years in prison over trumped-up charges, and continues to await trial on national security charges for “colluding with foreign forces” in the publication of his pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily. Pro-democracy protesters are being regularly convicted in “rioting” trials with often a dozen or more defendants at a time. In these mass trials, little attention is given to the factual allegations against the individual defendants and many have been convicted and sentenced to years in prison for simply being near a protest clash while wearing the wrong clothes or having pro-democracy political beliefs. Last month, Beijing stripped the courts of their remaining independence, with Beijing declaring that its representative body in the city may intervene in any case, at any time, to declare it a national security matter and dictate the outcome.
In Tibet, close to 1 million young Tibetan students are involuntarily placed in Colonial Boarding schools by the CCP, in an attempt to assimilate the Tibetan community by wiping their identity, culture, and language. These Colonial Boarding schools are core elements of the Chinese Communist Party’s systematic effort to co-opt, undermine and eliminate Tibetan identity to neutralize Tibetan resistance to Chinese rule. As per two recent reports from Human Rights Watch and Citizen Lab from University of Toronto, more than 1.2 million Tibetans’ DNA have been forcefully collected by the Chinese government as they attempt to build the world’s largest police run DNA database. Not only does this state run DNA collection drive violate individual’s privacy rights and the right to bodily integrity, it will also undoubtedly heighten China’s repression in Tibet. Tibetans, who are subjected to cultural, religious and language repression in Tibet under Chinese occupation, are facing a new high tech form of mass surveillance which will increase the magnitude of China’s Human Rights violation. Tibetan climate and language right activists who continued advocating for Tibet’s environment and language within the now-occupied territory suffered from political persecution. Prominent Tibetan writer and educator Go Sherab Gyatso has been held in incommunicado detention for over a year in 2020, and was handed a 10-year imprisonment in a secret trial in December 2021. Tibetan environmental activist A-nya Sengdra was sentenced to 10-year imprisonment in December 2019, and his health continued to deteriorate rapidly under harsh conditions in prison.
In East Turkistan (or the “Uyghur Region”), the Uyghur community continue to suffer an ongoing genocide that invokes the worst parts of human history. The United Nations Human Rights Council recently found that the PRC government is responsible for “serious human rights abuses” that “may constitute international crimes, including crimes against humanity.” The recent “Xinjiang Police Files” presented by Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC)’s Dr. Adrian Zenz revealed the brutality of the Uyghur genocide, evidenced by a large collection of photographs that exposed the PRC’s secretive mass incarceration system, including shoot-to-kill policy against any Uyghurs who try to escape. The hacked files contain photographs and information of over 5,000 Uyghurs, alongside many unknown ones, who continue to suffer from torture, forced medical treatment, sexual and gender-based violence including forced sterilization in detention camps. This includes Dr. Gulshan Abbas, a retired medical doctor, who was forcibly disappeared in September of 2018, only to be confirmed two years later as having been imprisoned on sham charges. Her daughters, both American citizens, have yet to speak with her or see any concrete proof of life. While victims escaped from camps have similarly been banned from contacting family outside of the region or traveling abroad, many remain imprisoned in clear retaliation for the work of family members abroad, including Qurban Mamur, father of U.S. citizen and journalist Bahram Sintash, and Ahmetjan Juma, brother of Radio Free Asia Uyghur Service journalist and U.S. citizen Memetjan Juma.
In China, following the Urumqi fire, courageous citizens took to the streets to protest the CCP’s oppressive policies, kicking off the week long A4 Revolution. Untold thousands of brave protesters risked their futures and lives to demand freedom from one of the world’s most brutal authoritarian regimes, and many now face mass retaliation. A recent report confirmed the names of dozens of detainees in relevance to the protests, including Peng Lifa, Cao Zhixin Zhai Dengrui, Li Yuanjing, and Li Siqi, with countless others whose fate has not been reported. Zhang Zhan, a citizen journalist who posted videos at the beginning of the pandemic questioning the government’s handling of the outbreak, has been imprisoned since May 2020. She has reportedly been ill, and her weight dropped below 40 kilograms after she staged hunger strikes in prison.
These cases are representative of the millions of people who are unjustly targeted and suffering. We believe the many U.S. officials who often claim that human rights is a priority for them, but we regret that this sentiment is not often enough reflected in official government policy. Promoting basic human rights standards should be a priority for the United States government, and a prerequisite to doing business with a foreign regime. This principle is not merely one of morality, but of self-interest: Any State actor that cannot commit to human dignity will not be a reliable partner, and a regime that does not respect the rights of its people will not respect the rights of foreign government partners; the CCP has proven this time and time again. We urge you to demand that the concentration camps, forced labor facilities, and coercive boarding schools be shut down, and all political prisoners be released immediately and returned back to their families.
Business as usual is not a viable option. It is time to draw a line in the sand with the CCP: Respect the rights of the people under your control, or take your business elsewhere.
We thank you for your commitment to ensuring a better future for humanity.
Undersigned diaspora communities:
Boston Uyghur Association
Campaign for Uyghurs
Center for Uyghur Studies
China Against Death Penalty
China Aid Association
Chinese Diaspora for Human Rights
Chinese Human Rights Defenders
Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation
End Uyghur Genocide
Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.
GWU Democracy Wall
Hong Kong Affairs Association of Berkeley
Hong Kong Democracy Council
Hong Kong Forum, Los Angeles
Hong Kong Social Action Movements in Boston
Hong Kongers in San Francisco Bay Area
Institute for Chinese Democratic Transition
Lamp of Liberty
National Committee of Democratic Party of China
New Yorkers Supporting Hong Kong
Penn State Students for Hong Kong
San Diegans Supporting Hong Kong
Students for Hong Kong
Students for a Free Tibet
Students for a Free Tibet (American University)
Students for a Free Tibet (Boston)
Students for a Free Tibet (New York/New Jersey)
Texans Support Hong Kong
Tibet Justice Center
Tibetan Association of Boston
U.S. Tibet Committee
Uyghur American Association
Uyghur Human Rights Project
Washingtonians Supporting Hong Kong
Candlelight Party in Cambodia
Center for a Free Cuba
Cornell Society for the Promotion of East Asian Liberty (SPEAL)
Eritrean Initiative on Refugee Rights
Friends of ZOKA
Georgetown Center for Asian Law
Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation
Jewish Movement for Uyghur Freedom
Nicaragua Freedom Coalition
Renew Democracy Initiative
Taiwan Parliamentary Human Rights Commission
Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation
World Liberty Congress