A widely diverse group of 30 NGOs today jointly called on President Obama to raise by name the cases of 16 Chinese prisoners of conscience and to press for their release when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday. The diverse coalition of faith and human rights leaders will discuss the urgent need to address human rights violations in China and for the U.S. to prioritize the peaceful advancement of such basic values as liberty and the rule of law.
The coalition is made up of Chen GuangCheng, Chinese activist and human rights lawyer (via live video feed); Frank Jannuzi, Head of the Washington, DC office, Amnesty International; Todd Stein, International Campaign for Tibet; Representatives from several of the families of the China 16; Rev. Bob Fu -- Founder and President, China Aid as well as other faith and human rights leaders representing organizations that signed the letter to President Obama, such as Freedom House, International Campaign for Tibet, Freedom Now, Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union, China Aid, Uyghur American Association, and others.
The event takes place on Thursday, June 6, 2013, 11:00 a.m. EDT at The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, 2027 Massachusetts Avenue, NW.
"By raising the cases of these sixteen -- a number we have chosen because the number eight represents good luck in Chinese culture -- we believe that you will at least double their chances for freedom, and will greatly enhance the prospects for freedom of similarly situated prisoners of conscience," the coalition of major non-governmental organizations and two law firms said in a June 5 letter to the president.
Dubbed the "China 16" by the NGO coalition, the prisoners of conscience represent "the diversity of groups in China who have been targeted for persecution by their own government: human rights attorneys, pro-democracy activists, Tibetans, Christians, Uyghurs, Falun Gong practitioners, and even a Nobel Peace Prize laureate" but share one common element: "In all cases, their imprisonment has been ordered because they are perceived to challenge the Chinese government's tight grip on power," the letter said.
ChinaAid and blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng played an important role in bringing together this coalition. The initiative is modeled after the U.S. intervention on behalf of the Siberian 7 during the Cold War, when seven Siberian Pentecostals who were barred from leaving the Soviet Union took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow
"The China 16 represent the tip of the iceberg of the thousands of peaceful advocates for freedom who are imprisoned, tortured and treated as criminals for exercising basic rights guaranteed by China's Constitution and international human rights law," said ChinaAid founder and president Bob Fu, who himself was jailed in Beijing in 1996 for his leadership role in the house church movement.
"President Obama should press President Xi Jinping for the freedom of the China 16. President Xi has emphasized China's need to respect the rule of law, but there is no law as long as prisoners of conscience suffer in Chinese gulags."
The letter hearkened back to the unwavering advocacy of the U.S. government on behalf of the Siberian 7, Soviet Jews and others, and said, "America's relationship with China must be no different, and our implacable support of the China 16 is based on the premise that U.S. disinterest in the peaceful advancement of such basic values as liberty and the rule of law profoundly disserves both our values and our interests."
The coalition will hold a press conference in Washington at 11 a.m. Thursday June 6. Some children and siblings of the China 16, including the daughters and siblings of Liu Xianbin (serving a 10-year sentence), Peng Ming (serving a life sentence), Wang Bingzhang (serving a life sentence) and Zhu Yufu will speak at the press conference.
The location will be the same room where Civil Rights Act was negotiated.
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