Ren’s release doesn’t clear up freedom of speech issues

By Lin Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2012-11-22 0:30:05

Ren Jianyu, a 25-year-old man who was detained in September 2011 for reposting Weibo posts that criticized local authorities, was released from a re-education through labor camp in Chongqing on Monday after serving 15 months. He was originally sentenced without trial to two years re-education through labor. At the time, local governments said they believed his actions were an attempt to "overthrow the government."

In another development, the Chongqing No.3 Intermediate People's Court rejected Ren's lawsuit against local police on Tuesday on the excuse that it exceeded the time limits for legal action.

The long anticipated release of Ren, however, didn't satisfy the public. The local court's explanation of why they were refusing to hear Ren's case left many wondering whether the local authority had truly reflected upon the questionable decision of detaining Ren. Thus, to many, the question of whether freedom of speech is legally protected remains uncertain.

The Internet ought to be an open communication platform on which ordinary people can express their views and governments can receive feedback on their policies. Online communication tools shorten the distance between governments and citizens, which can improve communication and understanding. However, many cases like Ren's are making people question whether freedom of speech is protected, especially in cyberspace. 

Governments should tolerate criticism, even when it's harsh. Criticism is one of the driving forces which can promote the development of the country. The Internet allows people to directly express their views.

Premier Wen Jiabao has reiterated that governments should create the conditions for people to be able to criticize authorities. In practice, authorities at the grass-roots level have often demonstrated low tolerance of dissenting voices.

Citizens' freedom of speech is protected by Article 35 of the Constitution, and online speech cannot be excluded as long as they have not infringed upon others' rights or harmed society. We hope that Ren's release can significantly affect the political and cultural tradition of punishing people for pure speech. Punishing people for posting or reposting speeches online should not still be happening. This is an essential step toward more freedom of speech.

Public pressure might be the ultimate reason behind Ren's release. It is hoped that questions surrounding this case will be cleared up soon.

Posted in: Observer

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