Newseum Translates Freedom Slogans for Chinese President's Visit

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/ Source: Associated Press
By Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Washington's popular museum about news media is preparing an eye-catching welcome for Chinese President Xi Jinping's high-profile state visit this week: large banners calling for his authoritarian government to respect human rights and press freedom.

The nonprofit Newseum, which lies on Pennsylvania Avenue a few blocks from the White House, will unveil the Chinese-language slogans Tuesday morning. Xi is set to arrive in Washington on Thursday ahead of an Oval Office meeting with President Barack Obama.

Jeffrey Herbst, the Newseum's chief executive officer, said it is the first time the museum, which has occupied its current site for seven years, has used its prominent facade to highlight a situation in a foreign country when its head of state visits Washington. The facade also has a permanent 75-foot-high rendering of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that enshrines the right of free speech.

"It's a vivid contrast with the repression of speech, expression and religion in China right now," Herbst told The Associated Press on Monday.

Among the six slogans to be displayed are: "Release human rights defenders in China," ''Long live freedom and democracy" and "Lift restrictions, free the press."

The Newseum will also highlight the cases of imprisoned journalists and activists, and display a model of the "Goddess of Liberty" created for the 1989 Tiananmen Square prodemocracy protests that were crushed by Chinese authorities, killing hundreds of people.

Herbst said that it was important for the museum to take a very public stance on free speech in China because as a rising power and home to nearly a fifth of the world's population, "in a very real sense, the world can't be free unless China is free."

Since Xi became president in 2013, China has waged its toughest crackdown in years on activists. That's part of a wider move to stymie Western-style freedoms in China's increasingly prosperous and connected, but politically constrained, society.

Delphine Halgand, U.S. director of Reporters Without Borders — one of several rights groups working with the Newseum on the display — said 24 professional journalists and 84 citizen-journalists are currently in jail in China.

She said the Newseum display would give a platform for a message that people in China are unable to express freely themselves.

"The Chinese government is very good at isolating protesters, but they can't avoid seeing banners like these on Pennsylvania Avenue," she said.

It wasn't immediately clear whether Xi would pass the site during his stay. It lies on a broad avenue that runs between the White House and the Capitol. The display will stay up until Sunday.