Wednesday, 11 December 2013

A Reminder of Liu Xiaobo

Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia in happier times
The Nobel Prizes were awarded this week and US Secretary of State John Kerry used the timing to call for Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo to be released five years after he was detained, as well as the harsh house arrest-like situation his wife Liu Xia is living in in Beijing.

While Liu Xiaobo is serving an 11-year sentence for subversion for his part in drafting Charter 08, his wife has had to endure a practically solitary existence where she is cut off from friends and the internet, only able to see her family once a week and visit her husband every three months.

Most recently she sent a message via a friend saying she believed she had developed depression and wanted to see an independent doctor, and that she wished that she and Liu Xiaobo could read each others' correspondence.

A poet, Liu Xia was financially dependent on her brother's income since her husband's incarceration, but now he too is serving an 11-year sentence what many believe is a trumped up conviction for fraud.

On Monday Kerry said in a statement: "We strongly urge Chinese authorities to release Liu Xiaobo, to end Liu Xia's house arrest, and to guarantee to Liu Xiaobo and his family members all internationally recognized human rights protections and freedoms.

"As the United States builds a constructive relationship with China, US leaders will continue to raise concerns related to respect for the rule of law, human rights, religious freedom and democratic principles with their Chinese counterparts."

But the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei rebuffed Kerry's call saying, that China was a country that followed the rule of law, but that Liu Xiaobo broke the law and was naturally being punished according to Chinese law.

China remembers Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate
However, things got tricky with the passing of Nelson Mandela last week.

Chinese state media lauded Mandela's legacy, and so internet users jumped on the apparently contradiction that it praised a former prisoner and yet the government had jailed Liu without mentioning his name directly.

Nevertheless, nationalist-leaning The Global Times struck back, saying it was wrong to cast Liu and Mandela in the same light.

"This year, as Chinese people mourned the late South African leader Nelson Mandela, some Western media deliberately cast a light on the imprisonment of Liu and praised him as 'China's Mandela'," the editorial said.

"Mandela was a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for leading African people to anti-apartheid victory through struggles, tolerance and efforts to bridge differences. However, awarding a Chinese prisoner who confronted authorities and was rejected by mainstream Chinese society derides China's judiciary system," it said.

No matter how much it tries to label Liu as a criminal, he was awarded the highest honour by the Nobel committee, something the Chinese government cannot erase, and his Peace Prize puts him in the same league as Mandela.

Everyone can see through China's pathetic argument. Its statement about Liu's rejection by mainstream Chinese society is mostly due to the government's own doing. It has managed to prevent most of the public from knowing about Liu and Charter 08 that calls for political reforms.

We hope outside pressure calling for Liu's release will continue, and the anniversary of the Nobel Prize ceremony is a good time to do this.

However we worry about Liu Xia and her desperation to find sanity in the soul-sapping situation she is in. Liu Xiaobo will make it through, but will his wife be able to withstand seven more years of psychological imprisonment?

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