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Retired Chinese Officials Urge Government to Respect Free Speech

Chinese man stops at a news stand on a street in Beijing (file photo)

Chinese man stops at a news stand on a street in Beijing (file photo)

A group of retired senior Chinese officials is challenging government censorship and is calling for greater respect for freedom of speech.

The former president of China University of Political Science and Law, Jiang Ping, has confirmed that he put his name to open letter calling for greater freedom of speech. The letter was written earlier in the month but made public Wednesday.

Jiang says he thinks political reform in China is still not in place yet, and that there are still many restrictions on freedom of speech.

Jiang was one of the 23 people who signed the open letter calling on the government to abolish media censorship. The letter stresses that although China's Constitution protects freedom of speech and assembly, these rights have been negated by detailed rules enforced by the Communist Party and government.

The letter calls democracy in China "fake democracy," and describes the Communist Party's central propaganda department as a "black hand."

David Bandurski of the China Media Project, a Hong Kong group that monitors Chinese media, translated the letter into English.

David Bandurski (file photo)

David Bandurski (file photo)

"One of the things that I really noticed as I was reading through and translating this letter is the way it describes control in China, media control, press censorship.... [T]he word was invisible black hand - almost this idea that we can't even find the specific persons who are responsible for this. Almost as though, and they don't use this word, creature, but it almost gives the sense of a creature that no can see and that everyone is controlled by and subjected to," said Bandurski.

Even Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is not exempt from censorship. He has gone further than other leaders in urging faster political reform, but these comments were cut from later text versions of recent speeches he has given at home and abroad.

Bandurski says it is significant that the letter calling for better protection of freedom of speech came from retired officials whom he referred to as "Party elders."

"They have held very important positions in the past, so they are party insiders, who are supporters of political reform in China. And of course, this letter specifically addresses the issue of freedom of speech and freedom of expression in China," remarked Bandurski.

The signers say the letter is not related to the case of Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident who last week became the newest Nobel Peace laureate.

Liu is serving an 11-year jail sentence for subversion. He was one of the key organizers of Charter 08, a manifesto calling for sweeping political reform.