Call For Democracy Rises Again 22 Years After Tiananmen

Amnesty activists in Italy hold signs that say "This is my Tiananmen Square." A similar commemoration would be prohibited in China.

When the so-called Arab Spring swept the Middle East and North Africa, the reverberations also shuddered through Chinese civil society – first as a new wave of online activism, and then as crushing oppression from the Chinese state.

When dissidents began calling for China to stage its own “Jasmine Revolution,” the authorities responded with overwhelming force. Since February the Chinese government has targeted more than 100 activists and human rights defenders.

The weight of such overt oppression — the worst since the 2009’s deadly Urumqi riots — is made particularly acute by the 22nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy activists. Although more than two decades have passed since the 1989 protests, the Chinese authorities are quick to extinguish any forms of commemoration, and to silence voices of discontent raised around the politically volatile anniversary.


Speak Out For Imprisoned Journalists On World Press Freedom Day

Shi Tao, serving a 10 year sentence in China for writing an email.

Sending an e-mail seems harmless enough, but Shi Tao has been in prison for it for over six years.  His crime: working as a journalist and exposing censorship.

In that e-mail, Shi Tao commented on Chinese authorities’ directive to downplay the 15th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy activists. When a journalist speaks out for human rights and the lives of others in China he risks his own — even in a digital world of e-mail and the web.

And how appropriate that today, World Press Freedom Day, focuses on media freedom in the digital age.  World Press Freedom Day was established by the United Nations as a tribute to journalists, celebrating the very rights that Shi Tao cannot enjoy: the fundamental human right to freedom of expression.  All over the world, journalists constantly face imprisonment, violence, intimidation, detainment and even torture for reporting on human rights violations.


Chinese New Year: A New Year for Human Rights

Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist, is serving a 10-year prison sentence in China for sending an email to the USA using his Yahoo account.

Yesterday was the first day of the Chinese New Year, marking an important celebration in Chinese culture. 2011 is the year of the Rabbit, an auspicious sign embodying friendship, negotiation, cooperation, and ambition. This is a great year to push for human rights change in China.

Join us in sending greeting cards to Chinese authorities, wishing them a happy New Year and asking them to release prisoners of conscience like Shi Tao, who has been in prison since 2004 simply for sending an email.

Also, let Shi Tao know you are thinking of him and that he is not alone. There is no better way to link the principles of friendship and ambition than by committing ourselves to the pursuit of human rights for all this New Year.  Thanks for taking action with us!

Yahoo – Poster Boy for Internet Censorship

By Tony Cruz, Business and Human Rights Coordination Group

Shi Tao

Yahoo – the company responsible for the 10 year prison sentence of Chinese journalist, Shi Tao – “should be held up as the poster boy of good behavior.”

And thus was the overall tone of the Yahoo Shareholder Meeting I attended on June 24, 2010.

For four years in a row now, I have attended these Yahoo Shareholder Meetings on behalf of Amnesty International. Accompanied this year by Amnesty International Field Organizer, Will Butkus, we set out with our remaining goal to keep the pressure on Yahoo to push for the release of Shi Tao.

Five years ago, Shi Tao sent an email to a pro-democracy U.S. website about the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre; an email which would put Yahoo on the human rights violations map when it gave Shi Tao’s personal user information to the Chinese government.

During this year’s shareholder meeting, Yahoo CEO, Carol Bartz, remained adamant about Yahoo’s desire to move past this issue. In her mind, so it seems that Yahoo has done enough. Well, it’s not enough. The bottom line is that Yahoo turned over Shi Tao’s information to the Chinese government. They violated international human rights, and as Bartz said last year “they made a mistake”

Amnesty's William Butkis and Tony Cruz at the Yahoo! shareholders meeting

So Yahoo can try to spin this in their favor all they’d like, but the facts remain the same. As long as Shi Tao still sits in prison, then Yahoo hasn’t done enough to get him out.

Yahoo has powerful influence in China that it can leverage to ensure Shi Tao’s release. For starters, Yahoo can pressure Chinese Internet company, Alibaba – which controls Yahoo! China in exchange for Yahoo’s 40% ownership share of Alibaba. As one of the largest and most powerful Internet companies in the world, Yahoo even has influence with the Chinese government. And it is up to Yahoo to use that influence until the day Shi Tao is released.

Below is the conversation between Amnesty International and Yahoo CEO, Carol Bartz, at the meeting (listen to full webcast here):

Cruz: Hi, Ms. Bartz. Tony Cruz here with Amnesty International. I was here last year and brought up the issue of internet censorship and Shi Tao, and when asked a question about this issue, you were quoted saying “That Yahoo is not incorporated to fix China. I’m sorry. It was incorporated to give people a free flow of information and ten years ago the company made a mistake, but you can’t hold us up as the bad boy forever.”

I understand that whenever we come to these meetings it’s an inconvenience. By the time I came up to bat last year, there were two colleagues who spoke on this issue about Shi Tao. It’s an inconvenience and all I can say is you take that feeling of how you felt inconvenienced and that discomfort you felt and you multiply it by a million and it pales in comparison to what this individual must feel like being in prison now for 5 years of10 year sentence.


Tiananmen Square: 21 Years Later Still No Justice or Freedom

Twenty-one years after the massacre in and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 3rd and 4th, 1989 – which killed scores of students and peaceful protesters – justice still has yet to be served for its victims, and citizens of China are still being denied their rights to freedom of expression. Any sort of commemoration and criticism of the events are strictly prohibited by Chinese authorities, as they continue to accuse citizens of “inciting subversion,” and imposing lengthy imprisonment after unfair trials. Human rights defenders in China know these obstacles all too well, and continue to risk severe punishment – especially around this time every year.

 Commemorative activities organized by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China (The Alliance) were brought to an abrupt halt by police on May 29th and 30th.

Three girls stand in Tiananmen Square on a day of rememberence of the 1989 event

Three girls stand in Tiananmen Square on a day of rememberence of the 1989 event

The organizers had followed procedures for regulating public assemblies, but the police claimed additional ‘entertainment’ licenses were required, confiscated exhibits including two statues of the Goddess of Democracy and arrested 15 people.

Amnesty released a public statement commemorating today’s anniversary, in which we condemned the Chinese authorities’ efforts to cover up the massacre and bring those responsible into investigation.  Furthermore, we continue to urge the Chinese government to stop suppressing citizens who exercise their fundamental rights to freedom of expression.

One such case where the government’s crackdown on free expression has been apparent is that of Shi Tao, a journalist and poet based in Hunan province. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2005 for his email communications about the 1989 massacre.  After using his Yahoo! email account to send pro-democracy messages to foreign websites, he was charged with “illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities”.

Internet company Yahoo! disclosed the contents of Shi Tao’s personal email messages where he summarized a Chinese Central Propaganda Department communiqué on how journalists should handle the 15th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown.  The company’s role in turning over this information was key evidence leading to Shi Tao’s conviction.

Shi Tao, and countless other individuals, are still imprisoned for their communications about the 1989 crackdown. And after 21 years of suppressing Chinese expression, it’s painfully clear that justice and freedom are long over-due.

Google, Actions speak louder than words

Google made an unprecedented announcement this week by claiming it is no longer willing to continue censoring search results on, its Chinese search engine. Meetings are underway with Chinese authorities to discuss removing filtering software from and, the company further claims, if an acceptable agreement is not reached, Google may shut the search engine down.

Some in the media and some human rights advocates are heralding this announcement as a turning point in corporate America’s relations with China, given that Google attributes their sudden opposition to censorship is the result of a security breach of two Gmail accounts belonging to Chinese human rights activists.

But as Tom Foremski rightly points out over at ZDNET, a leading IT publication:

The question remains is why now? Google could have taken a stand on human rights in China on many occasions in the past.

Many Internet companies operating in China, including Google, have previously complied with the Chinese government’s censorship requirements. And this isn’t the first time that Chinese human rights defenders have been the targeted through their email accounts. Yahoo! handed over Shi Tao’s personal email records to Chinese authorities in 2004 which led to a 10 year prison sentence. He was targeted because of his effort to expose government-endorsed media censorship over the 15th anniversary of Tiananmen. More recently, the Chinese government blocked Twitter, Flickr, and Hotmail prior to the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen in June and attempted to mandate that all PC makers such as Hewlett Packard and Dell install software that filters Internet content.

Foremski also cites a Twitter feed from Guardian reporter Bobbie Johnson – who hits the nail on the head:

Goog [sic] acted after its rights were infringed, not the rights of its users.

That’s why AIUSA pulled out of the Global Network Initiative – a multi-stakeholder initiative – we joined in 2007, with the goal of establishing voluntary principles to promote and respect human rights on the Internet. We saw no tangible results.

We certainly welcome Google’s statements, but actions speak louder than words. And this is the internet company’s opportunity to be a leader. Google should stand with human rights defenders and support the Global Online Freedom Act (H.R. 2271) which could help IT companies resist information requests by the Chinese government.

By Tony Cruz and Anna Phelan, Amnesty International USA’s Business & Economic Relations Group

Write-a-Thon Series: Shi Tao

This posting is part of our Write-a-Thon Cases Series. For more information visit

Four years ago, Chinese journalist Shi Tao was sentenced to 10 years in prison. His crime? Sending an e-mail.

©AI         Shi Tao

©AI Shi Tao

In April 2004, Shi Tao e-mailed a pro-democracy Web site in the United States about a government regulation ordering the country’s media outlets to down play the upcoming 15th anniversary of the military crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square.  Authorities arrested him seven months later, charging him with “providing state secrets to foreign entities.”

China has a history of cracking down on freedom of expression through restricting journalism. It has implemented broad censorship of the Internet. Authorities used information provided by the host of Shi Tao’s e-mail account, Yahoo!, to convict him in April 2005.


Another Birthday in Prison

Saturday marks the 41st birthday of Chinese journalist and poet Shi Tao. It will be the fifth birthday he celebrates in prison. He is serving serving a 10-year prison term for sending an e-mail summarizing a memo advising journalists on how to handle the 15th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananman Square crackdown.

Chinese authorities have not lessened their restrictions on Internet freedom since Shi Tao was arrested on November 24, 2004. This was particularly apparent on the days immediately before and after June 4 of this year, the 20th anniversary of the Tiananman Square crackdown. The government blocked foreign news Web sites like CNN and the BBC and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook in anticipation of the day. Controls over other media outlets, including newspapers and magazines, have also intensified in recent years.

While prison conditions have improved slightly for Shi Tao in the past two years, freedom may still be as much as five years away. An appeal to review Shi Tao’s case was rejected last year. His mother’s request for medical parole for Shi Tao–because of a stomach condition that has worsened as a result of a poor prison diet–was also rejected. Don’t let Shi Tao spend any more birthdays in jail!

Yahoo! needs to click its refresh button on Internet Censorship in China

By Tony Cruz, AIUSA’s Business and Economic Relations Group

Yahoo! held its annual shareholder meeting on June 25th — the first meeting with the company’s new CEO, Carol Bartz. In the meeting, Ms. Bartz attempted to show a new face of Yahoo; a bolder and progressive “no-nonsense” Yahoo. It was my third Yahoo! shareholder meeting and a chance to see if Yahoo!’s new face meant new business practices that would respect human rights. I presented two questions:

  1. Since 2006, what concrete steps has Yahoo taken to address the problem of Internet censorship in China?
  2. Will you publicly support the Global Online Freedom Act; legislation that would give you the power to fight the Chinese government?

Ms. Bartz responded:

Okay, I’m going to go real simple here. Yahoo is not incorporated to fix China. I’m sorry. It wasn’t incorporated to fix China. It was incorporated to give people a free flow of information. Ten years ago the company made a mistake but you can’t hold us up as the bad boy forever. We have worked better, harder, faster than most companies to respect human rights and to try and make a difference. But it is not our job to fix the Chinese government. It’s that simple. We will respect human rights, we will do what’s right, but we’re not going to take on every government in the world as our mandate. That’s not the mandate that the shareholders gave us.

Not only did Ms. Bartz avoid answering my questions, she also seemed to have misconstrued their meaning. Amnesty International members are not asking Yahoo! to “fix” China. And we haven’t singled out Yahoo! in our campaign against Internet censorship. We’ve targeted Microsoft and Google, too. Because Yahoo!’s actions have led to the highly publicized imprisonment of two Chinese dissidents, we’ve asked the company to call for the release of Shi Tao and to adopt business practices that actively support human rights. You can take action right now to remind them.

After a civil suit was settled with Shi Tao’s family, Yahoo! attempted to “fix” itself. Yahoo! hired a new CEO and implemented a new marketing strategy to distance itself from its tarnished image. The company even created a Business and Human Rights Program. But Shi Tao remains in prison and Yahoo! continues to censor its search engine in China. (I wonder how that technology has helped the Chinese government to block browser searches using the key-word Uighur this week.) So, I still don’t understand how Yahoo! “will respect human rights” and “will do what’s right” when the company hasn’t addressed the problem of Internet censorship in China – a problem that limits innovation and restricts freedom of expression.

The Internet is vital in bringing change to China, and increasingly so around the world. It appears the Obama administration agree, since they objected to China’s mandated web filtering software. Former Amnesty USA Chair Chip Pitts has been blogging about tech companies and democratic rights and the reaction in the US Senate, following the news that Nokia provided technology to the Iranian government that was used to monitor and repress protesters and dissidents. Hmm… doesn’t that sound familiar?

Pitts makes a good point: whether the Internet’s “liberalizing effect” on the flow of information will continue greatly depends on how Internet technology companies, NGOs and governments interact. Take action and remind Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft that they, too, bear the burden of promoting the freedom of information no matter where they operate. It’s time to get behind the Global Online Freedom Act.

Bloggers are Journalists too

Shi Tai

Shi Tao

As some people have alluded to in the comments to this post by the Editors, bloggers are most definitely in need of press freedom just as much as “regular” journalists. Just take a look at Shi Tao, a blogger who’s been in prison in China since 2004 for sending an email.

Every time I read a blog, or post to one, I think about how lucky I am to be able to say what I want in those posts and comments, and how glad I am that those other bloggers whose thought-provoking words I read have not been silenced or jailed by their governments. But there are so many bloggers and other journalists who are not free to share their ideas with us, whose ability to shine the light on human rights abuses has been cut off.

On this day, I not only want to remember Shi Tao and the others and hope they are soon freed–I want to do something to make that happen!