Senators Ask State Department to Monitor Free Speech Violations Concerning Coronavirus in China, Other Countries


Several senators across the United States have called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the U.S. Representative to the United Nations Kelly Craft to address concerns about free speech violations in several countries around the world.

Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), John Cornyn (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) submitted the letter on Monday, pointing to crackdown on free speech concerning the coronavirus in China, as well as in Turkey, Bangladesh, Niger and Cambodia, as a reason for concern.

Citing China’s expulsion from Hong Kong and Macau of at least 13 journalists, including those from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, the senators said that the Chinese Communist Party is using the pandemic as “a thin veil to cover a crackdown on peaceful dissent and freedom of speech.”

“Additionally, a number of Chinese citizens reporting Wuhan — such as Fang Bin and Chen Qiushi — have disappeared,” the senators said in the letter. “Populations already suffering under CCP repression, to include Tibetans and Uyghurs, are being targeted and arrested in transparent attempts to suppress their voices.”

The letter also points out that China is not alone in censoring information about the coronavirus, pointing to Iran’s ban on all print media, the detainment of freelance journalist Darvinson Rojas in Venezuela and arrests in Cambodia of those expressing opinions on the virus. The senators also cited similar actions in Egypt, Niger and Bangladesh.

“We now know that suppression of information and censorship of criticism gave room for the virus to propagate and spread. In a March 13 analysis, researchers found that Chinese COVID-19 cases could have been reduced by 86 percent if measures had been taken two weeks earlier: Reporters Without Borders subsequently created a timeline outlining the progression of the pandemic that could have been halted through free speech and accurate, censorship-free reporting,” the letter reads. “Globally, the most successful COVID-19 interventions have been those that include transparency, coordination at all levels of government, and an informed and engaged general public.”

The senators called on the Department of State to “document acts of harassment, arrest, increased surveillance, or other forms of suppression or criminalization by regimes in retribution for those nation’s citizens expressing their freedoms through media, social media, peaceful assembly, or other peaceful means,” as well as bring it to the attention of the Security Council at the United Nations.

“Both the State Department and the U.S. Mission to the U.N. should also consider appropriate diplomatic engagement with like-minded partners on this issue with the goal of building upon existing speech and digital freedoms multilaterally,” the senators said in the letter. “We stand with the defenders of free speech and expression in China, and in any nation across the globe where an illiberal regime is threatening these fundamental human rights.”

Read the full letter to Pompeo and Craft here.

Jordyn Pair is a reporter with The Michigan Star. Follow her on Twitter at @JordynPair. Email her at [email protected]





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