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China’s freedom failures

The confession may be fake, but China’s moral failures are real./ Michael Chmielewski
The confession may be fake, but China’s moral failures are real./ Michael Chmielewski

Gao Yu’s treatment by Chinese authorities is despicable

Author: Ethan Stein

The tale of journalist Gao Yu, the Chinese journalist supposedly coerced into confessing to leaking state secrets, is a story that would benefit from a bit more concern and anger here at home. We don’t want a country that’s gaining more economic and social influence to continue taking liberties with human rights.

Although details surrounding the case are sure to come out after this piece is committed to ink, I feel it’s worth commenting on the whole four hours the courts took to deliberate on this elderly journalist whose arrest and conviction came under (thus far) questionable circumstances. Simply put, if China wants to be considered the next global superpower, their government needs to start taking human rights and fair press values more seriously.

I don’t mean throw the baby out with the bath water; obviously, China is not a monolithically evil entity to be condemned. However, their government risks tarnishing the nation’s image with actions like these. The BBC reported on Nov. 20, 2014 that government authorities threatened Yu with the arrest of her son if she didn’t comply, and her confession was reportedly broadcast without her consent. The arrest and charges have certainly not endeared the Chinese government to organizations like the Human Rights Watch, who see the arrest as an assault on accessing information.

Furthermore, I would be more partial to a “wait and see” approach, were it not for the fact that the government handed out a 10-year sentence to a journalist in 2005 for spreading details of a government plan to suppress reportage of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Oh, and let’s not forget the government’s less than stellar track record on Internet freedom and neutrality.

The government should be criticized vehemently at this time, because it wants to have it both ways; it wants a modern economy and technological base and the ability to continue using antiquated government practices. If the theoretical becomes the front-page reality in five to ten years time and China does become the world’s next superpower, its government needs to understand, either on its own or with a gentle critique from other countries, that becoming a superpower means you answer to everyone.

I’m entirely aware that China’s government may not be interested in changing their policies on censorship or the press, but the onus still falls on us as members of the public to speak out against that which we see as unjust. There is no getting around the fact that we can and should do everything we can to curb the Chinese government’s penchant for abusing press and personal freedom. If the country wants to be an economic or technological leader, its government has to exercise progressive thinking in the social department. Why should a country work with China when its government won’t hold itself to as high a standard in personal and professional freedom as North America or the UK? Not that these places have flawless records in journalistic freedom, but China’s government lags behind both. Whenever journalists are abused in Canada or America, there’s an enormous outcry, and we should make a habit of this whenever the Chinese officials steps out of line.

We speak out when journalists are unjustly targeted on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Let’s do the same when journalists are targeted in the courts of Beijing.

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