August 4, 2000
His Excellency Jiang Zemin
President, People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
VIA FACSIMILE: 86-10-6512-5810
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is outraged by the prolonged imprisonment of Gao Qinrong, a reporter for China's state news agency, Xinhua.
Gao has been in jail on trumped-up charges since December 4, 1998, for exposing flaws in a much-touted irrigation system in drought-plagued Yuncheng, Shanxi Province, according to his wife, Duan Maoying.
A local newspaper, The Yuncheng Daily, had reported that 67,000 water tanks had been built in just six months, but Gao's investigation revealed that these cisterns were not connected to any water sourceÑand that there were no pipes carrying water to irrigate the fields.
The report, which characterized the irrigation project as a "political project for the sake of leaders' promotion in Yuncheng," was sent to the Central Disciplinary Inspection Committee, the Communist Party's internal investigative unit. On April 5, 1998, the Committee sent a local team of investigators to interview Gao about his findings. According to his wife, Duan, they instead interrogated Gao about his sources and his motives for writing the report.
Xinhua never carried Gao's article, which was finally published on May 27, 1998, in an internal reference edition of the official People's Daily that is distributed only among a select group of Party leaders, according to CPJ sources. By fall 1998, the irrigation scandal had become national news, with reports appearing in the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekend ("Nanfang Zhoumo") and on China Central Television (CCTV).
But local officials were not called to account for their actions in Yuncheng. Instead, Gao was arrested on December 4, and eventually charged with crimes including bribery, embezzlement, and pimping, according to Duan. On April 28, 1999, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison after a closed, one-day trial. He is being held in a prison in Qixian, Shanxi Province, according to CPJ sources.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, CPJ is deeply disturbed by Gao's imprisonment. Premier Zhu Rongji and other senior members of your administration have repeatedly called on the country's journalists to help expose corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency, yet Gao appears to have been punished for carrying out precisely this role.
As Gao himself wrote from his prison cell, in one of numerous appeals made to the Party leadership to overturn his conviction: "Fighting against corruption is a decision made by the
Party Central Committee, so, being a Party member and a journalist, I feel it is my duty to report the people's grievances" (translated by the Inter Press Service).
Gao Qinrong has now been in prison for more than 20 months. CPJ believes there is ample evidence that Gao has been persecuted for doing his professional duty, and we therefore respectfully urge Your Excellency to order his immediate release.
We thank you for your attention to this most urgent matter, and await your response. Sincerely,
Ann K. Cooper