I wasn’t going to post again today, but I was just reading Erica’s post, and I went to Daily Kos to check out the comments. One commenter was of the opinion that free speech is just an American construct, and others responded that freedom of expression and information are acutally guaranteed in Article 19 of the UDHR and also in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which China is a signatory. That’s good to know, but that level of discussion can make it easy to forget about the actual human cost of governments not respecting those human rights, and corporations not standing up for them.
Shi Tao knows this cost all too well. In April 2005, Chinese authorities sentenced him to 10 years in prison for using his Yahoo! email account to send a message to a U.S.-based pro-democracy website. Authorities used email account holder information supplied by Yahoo! to convict Shi Tao, and since then he has been suffering the consequences of his government’s lack of respect for freedom of expression and of Yahoo’s refusal to stand up for human rights. In addition to all the years he’s spent in jail, he’s lost his wife, who was pressured into divorcing him, and his mother faces regular harrassment.
So while it’s important to have these discussions about international law and international human rights standards, it’s equally important to remember the human suffering that results when profits and power are valued over rights.