The latest news is that the Foreign Ministry said it was studying the contents of the letter.
Foreign China scholars have rarely spoken out about human rights abuses in China, partly out of concern for their access to the country.
In their appeal, the scholars said Chinese actions toward human rights activists called into question "China's oft-stated commitment to a rule of law."
The signers represented a cross-section of China specialists, coming from different disciplines and of both liberal and conservative views.
Some have clashed previously with Chinese authorities over critical or controversial work. Columbia University's Andrew Nathan and Princeton's Perry Link, for example, edited The Tiananmen Papers, an alleged inside account of the Chinese leadership's response to and ultimate quelling of the 1989 democracy protests. (more)
Human Rights Watch - China: Letter to President Hu Jintao: Stop harassment of advocates for social justice
Dear President Hu,
We, the undersigned human rights advocates, lawyers, and scholars, write to urge your commitment to ensuring the civil rights of advocates for social justice. We note with concern the sharp increase in official retaliation against such advocates and their families through persistent harassment, banishment, detention, arrest, and imprisonment. We note, too, the frequent use of state secrets charges to discourage social activism.
For the international community to take seriously China’s oft-stated commitment to a rule of law, and for China’s own citizens to trust the judicial system to redress legitimate grievances, it is urgent that China’s central leadership not look the other way when local courts and law enforcement officials ignore China’s laws and legal procedures with impunity. It is equally urgent that judicial authorities throughout China cease to use China’s state secrets laws to prevent defendants in politically sensitive cases from exercising their rights to fair and impartial hearings.
Several recent cases cast doubt on your government’s willingness to take those principled steps. Four such cases are of particular concern, those of rights defenders Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, a legal activist, Zhao Yan, a journalist, and Hu Jia, a grassroots HIV/AIDS activist. Their apprehension, the charges against Messrs. Gao, Chen, and Zhao, Mr. Chen’s and Mr. Zhao’s subsequent trials and sentencing, and Mr. Hu’s forcible removal to a police station without a warrant are representative of China’s legal system at its worst. We urge the immediate releases of those still held, the dismissal of all charges, and the immediate restoration of Mr. Gao’s license to practice law. (more)