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China letter for political reform

Urge legislature to retify human rights treaty

  • BY CHRIS BUCKLEY New York Times News Service
  • Published: 14:02 February 27, 2013
  • Gulf News

HONG KONG: More than 100 Chinese scholars, journalists, lawyers and writers urged their national legislature on Tuesday to ratify a major human rights treaty, in the latest challenge from intellectuals seeking to curtail arbitrary Communist Party power.

The petition calling on the party-controlled National People’s Congress to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights came a week before the congress holds its annual full session, which is to install Xi Jinping as China’s president, succeeding Hu Jintao.

Copies of the document appeared on Chinese blogging websites and internet forums, but were often quickly removed. It was unclear whether government censors demanded the removals.

Ratification of the treaty would “promote and realise the principles of a country based on human rights and a China governed by its Constitution”, the petition said. “We fear that due to the lack of nurturing of human rights and absence of fundamental reverence and assurances for individuals’ freedom, rights and dignity, if a full-scale crisis breaks out, the whole society will collapse into hatred and brutality.”

The call, also circulated by e-mail, carried the names of 121 backers, including several who said they lived in Hong Kong or Macao.

The petition was the latest display of the demands for political change confronting China’s new leadership. Several people who signed it said they hoped to press Xi and his colleagues to live up to vows of greater respect for the rule of law and citizens’ rights that they have made since Xi became Communist Party leader in November, when Hu retired from that post.

“This has become increasingly important, because on the one hand violations of rights have become so common, while on the other hand, citizens’ awareness of their rights has risen sharply,” said Cui Weiping, a translator and essayist in Beijing who signed the petition. “This proposal is really quite mild,” said Cui, who formerly taught at the Beijing Film Academy. “I see this as giving the government a chance to show that it is willing to make improvements.”

Since Xi came to power, Chinese advocates of political liberalisation have urged the Communist Party to abide by the constitution, which in theory offers some protection to free speech and other rights. Some reform advocates see some signs of hope in the government’s vow to overhaul “re-education through labour,” which is used to jail citizens without trials, and some point to Xi’s own promises of greater official accountability.

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