China Urged to Release Nobel Prize Laureate

Posted on Nov 19, 2010

By Maran Turner and Yang Jianli

The leaders of the world’s major economies gathered in Seoul for the G20 summit on Nov. 11-12. The leader of the world’s second strongest economy with a population of over 1.3 billion people, however, has allowed his government to be frightened by one man, an imprisoned 54-year old literary scholar from Beijing ― revealing the depths of the Chinese government’s insecurities.

Liu Xiaobo may be a slight man but the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s words have terrified the Chinese Communist Party since he stood in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The Chinese government has regularly jailed and “reeducated” Liu since 1989 for exercising his right to freedom of speech, guaranteed by Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution.

In 2009, Liu received an 11-year prison sentence for “inciting subversion” as a result of his role in drafting Charter 08. This blueprint for reform envisions a democratic China, a hopeful China; where the judiciary is independent, fundamental human rights are protected, and citizens have the freedom to speak, assemble, and worship as they please.

But this China does not exist. And President Hu Jintao and the Chinese Communist Party are terrified that if this vision for China and its people is spoken of, the ruling elite will swiftly lose its iron-fisted grip on power. So the Chinese government silences those who dare to speak of democracy and human rights with prison sentences.

In the wake of Liu’s Nobel Peace Prize, however, these efforts at silencing the brave Chinese citizens who dare to demand their fundamental freedoms are taking an ever-more ominous turn. In addition to the censorship we have come to expect from the authoritarian regime, the Chinese government now detains those citizens who dare to speak Liu’s name.

The head of the Tiananmen Mothers, Ding Zilin, and her husband are disappeared. The Chinese government is so panicked about the power of the imprisoned scholar’s words that it placed his wife, Liu Xia, under house arrest. Her crime, it appears, is a new one in the world’s history ― being married to a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

The efforts at silencing Liu and dissent in China extend far beyond China’s geographic boundaries. Earlier this year, the Chinese government conducted a furious campaign to prevent the Nobel Committee from awarding the Peace Prize to Liu.

China’s Deputy Foreign Minister Madame Fu Ying warned the director of the nongovernmental Nobel Institute that giving the award to Liu would be seen as an “unfriendly act” by Norway toward China.

These threats backfired. But this hasn’t stopped the Chinese government from ramping up its bullying toward foreign governments that support Liu and his fellow citizens’ rights to freedom of speech.

After the announcement of the Nobel Prize, Beijing immediately summoned Norway’s ambassador to China to protest the decision and canceled trade meetings between the two countries.

In an astonishing showing of fear, China’s Norwegian Embassy sent demarches warning ambassadors not to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on Dec. 10 in Oslo.

Recently, Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai blatantly threatened governments who support Liu, saying that they would have to “bear the consequences.”

Some say that the Chinese government’s recent heavy-handedness in foreign and domestic affairs is a sign of China’s increasing strength. We say it is a sign of weakness. If authoritarian control of its economy has been the Chinese Communist Party’s forte, the inability to tolerate dissent will be its demise.

Detaining those who dissent is a coward’s move: a desperate tactic of a government not yet confident enough to face its citizens and openly defend its policies on the merits.

And threatening foreign governments who support these citizens and their fundamental rights exposes the dangerous shortcomings of a regime intent on doing things its way, all the way, all the time.

China cannot expect to be a true world superpower if it cannot interact with foreign governments without resorting to intimidation.

We don’t expect President Hu, a man so gripped by the fear of an imprisoned literary scholar that he is willing to risk the international community’s condemnation, to release Liu Xiaobo because it is the morally just thing to do.

However, we do expect the leaders who gathered at the G20 summit and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to publicly urge President Hu to release Liu Xiaobo because it is the morally just thing for them to do.

These world leaders must impress upon President Hu that releasing Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xia, and others illegally detained is a true showing of a superpower’s strength.

The long-term “consequences” that G20 nations will have to bear if the Chinese government is allowed to continue to flout rule of law because of its economic strength are far more frightening than those “consequences” that the Chinese government threatens today.

Maran Turner is executive director of Freedom Now. Yang Jianli is founder and president of Initiatives for China. Both serve on a pro bono team of international legal and human rights specialists retained by Liu Xia to represent Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia.