Sunday, 18 December 2011

A Supportive Voice is Gone

Czech Writer and dissident Vaclav Havel has died at the age of 75.

Just over a week ago to mark the first anniversary of Liu Xiabo winning the Nobel Peace Prize Havel put his name on an open letter calling for Liu's release.

It was also signed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and fellow Nobel peace prize winners Mairead Maguire, Betty Williams, Jody Williams and Shirin Ebadi.

"The international community seems to have forgotten that, a year after the award ceremony, Liu remains in prison in China and in harsh conditions," the group said in a statement. "The committee calls on all those committed to freedom of thought and opinion to join the committee in its efforts to obtain the release of Liu."

Havel was such a supportive figure to Liu, as the latter modeled Charter 08 after Charter 77, a manifesto that articulated the lasting humiliations that Communism imposed on the individual. It called for human rights guaranteed under the 1975 Helsinki accords.

And for that Havel was arrested, tried and convicted of subversion and served three months in prison. In 1979 he was arrested again on charges of subversion and sentenced to four and a half years.

This sounds very similar to what Liu is going through, though his sentence is even harsher at 11 years. His wife Liu Xia is practically a prisoner in her own home, cut off for the most part from the outside world.

According to the New York Times' obituary, Havel was luckier as the severity of his sentence sparked protests from Communist parties in France, Italy and Spain. He was eventually released in 1983.

Who is protesting on behalf of Liu now? Almost all the other Communist regimes and ideologies have fallen, leaving the responsibility to democratic countries to campaign on his behalf.

Which is why Havel was such an important voice in calling for Liu's release.

Of anyone, he knew exactly what the Chinese writer is going through, mentally and physically after having gone through it himself.

In the end Havel prevailed and led his country out of Communism.

Will Liu be able to do the same? It's a long shot. A very long one. If you ask an ordinary person who Liu Xiabo is, most haven't even heard of his name before thanks to Chinese government censorship.

But Liu is a man who lives by his word and he will continue to push for human rights for China and its people after he patiently finishes his prison sentence.

Which is much more than what the Chinese government can say for itself.

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