Asia-Pacific

Chinese veteran politicians call for reform

Liu Xiaobo - 28 Oct 2008
Image caption Liu Xiaobo was jailed for 11 years in December 2009

A group of 23 Communist Party elders in China has written a letter calling for an end to the country's restrictions on freedom of speech.

The letter says freedom of expression is promised in the Chinese constitution but not allowed in practice.

They want people to be able to freely express themselves on the internet and want more respect for journalists.

The call comes just days after the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

Mr Liu was sent to prison for 11 years in 2009 for expressing his desire to see peaceful political change in China.

The letter's release also comes ahead of a key party meeting that is expected to promote future leaders and shape policy for the next few years.

Specific demands

The authors of the letter describe China's current censorship system as a scandal and an embarrassment.

The signatories describe the propaganda department as "invisible black hands".

The letter says: "They violate our constitution, often ordering by telephone that the works of such and such a person cannot be published, or that such and such an event cannot be reported in the media.

"The officials who make the call do not leave their names, and the secrecy of the agents is protected, but you must heed their phone instructions."

Many who signed the letter were once influential officials.

They include a former personal secretary to the revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, and a former editor of the People's Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper.

The letter, addressed to China's parliament, makes a number of proposals for change.

Censorship should be ended; restrictions on book publishing abolished, they say.

Journalists should be given protection and support when they investigate official corruption and a new media law should be drawn up to ensure they do their job responsibly, it says.

The signatories complain that people who lived in Hong Kong while it was still a British colony enjoyed more freedom than is currently allowed in mainland China.

The BBC's Chris Hogg in Beijing says open letters like this rarely produce enough pressure to change policy.

Often they get the signatories into trouble, although most of those who signed are retired or quite elderly and probably believe the authorities can't do much to harm them, our correspondent says.

Twitter users in China report that references to the letter on different internet message boards are already being deleted.

The censors appear to be doing what they always do, seeking to wipe away any traces of criticism of the party that would soil its reputation amongst ordinary people, our correspondent says.

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