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09 May 2003

Expert Commission Links Spread of SARS, China's Legal System

(Congressional-Executive Commission on China May 7 report) (620)

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) issued a report
May 7 stating that Chinese government control of the means of
publication and the lack of clear legal boundaries for free expression
in China have inadvertently aided the spread of Severe Acute
Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) by impeding the free flow of information
in the country.

The paper, entitled "Information Control and Self-Censorship in the
PRC and the Spread of SARS," concludes that although China's legal
system allows the country's leaders to control criticism, it also
prevents the establishment of private commercial and civil
institutions with the capacity and willingness to investigate and
report on matters of public concern.

"This in turn impedes the free flow of information in a way that
threatens the well-being of PRC citizens and, as the PRC has chosen to
increasingly participate in global affairs, everyone with whom they
interact," the CECC report states.

The CECC was created by Congress in October 2000 with the legislative
mandate to monitor human rights and the development of the rule of law
in China. It consists of nine senators, nine members of the House of
Representatives, and five senior administration officials appointed by
the President. The current Chair is Congressman Jim Leach (Republican
of Iowa), and the Co-Chair is Senator Chuck Hagel (Republican of
Nebraska).

For the complete text of the CECC report, go to:

http://www.cecc.gov/pages/news/prcControl_SARS.php?PHPSESSID=adb4443bfdc222c4851eef7e6b244407

Following is the text of the executive summary of the CECC report:

(begin text)

CONGRESSIONAL-EXECUTIVE COMMISSION ON CHINA

Information Control and Self-Censorship in the PRC and the Spread of
SARS

1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The government of the People's Republic of China ("PRC") employs an
extensive and burdensome licensing system to restrict publication of
news and opinions on matters of public concern. Those who are allowed
to publish confront a legal system that obscures the boundaries of
freedom of expression and discourages communications with foreigners,
so that most Chinese are too wary to publish information that
authorities might deem critical or embarrassing. Anyone wanting to
publish such information can do so only if they enjoy the patronage of
a member of the PRC's "free speech elite" - someone whose political
status provides a degree of safety from prosecution. The global spread
of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome ("SARS") is a direct product of
these systemic restrictions on freedom of expression, in particular:

-- Under PRC law, "freedom of expression" is not an individual
liberty, but rather a tool to serve the interests of the socialist
state;

-- The PRC legal system discourages the free flow of information, not
only by erecting barriers to non-government-controlled institutions,
but also by encouraging individual self-censorship by not clearly
defining what constitutes protected speech; and

-- The PRC government has transformed the constitutional right of free
speech into a political privilege of "freer" speech for the PRC
ideological elite.

The impact of SARS has put PRC leaders on notice that, although this
system allows them to control criticism, its also prevents the
establishment of private institutions with the capacity and
willingness to investigate and report on matters of public concern.
This impedes the free flow of information in a way that threatens the
well-being of PRC citizens and, as the PRC has chosen to increasingly
participate in global affairs (as with the Women's World Cup and the
Olympics), everyone with whom they interact. PRC authorities should
eliminate these systemic restraints on freedom of expression to ensure
that in the future people do not needlessly suffer through a crisis
whose impact could have been lessened through greater public scrutiny
and awareness.

(end text)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)