China: rights activist sentenced to 11 years for "subversion"

Chinese rights activist Liu Xiabo was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Dec. 25 on subversion charges. Liu was tried two days earlier in a trial that lasted only two hours and was closed to foreign diplomats. The trial was called "a travesty of justice" by international rights groups in including Human Rights Watch, which said before the trial that although "Liu's crimes are non-existent ... his fate has been pre-determined." It is unclear whether Liu's legal team will appeal the sentence.

Liu, who spent two years in prison following the Tiananmen Square massacre, has long challenged China's one-party rule, and co-authored Charter 08, a petition calling for political reforms in the country. Liu was arrested in June and charged earlier this month, but he has been in detention since last December, shortly before the petition's release. In June, rights groups marked the 20th anniversary of the 1989 massacre in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, calling for the government to investigate the incident and implement changes called for by Charter 08. (Jurist, Dec. 25)

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China appeals court upholds 11-year sentence for Liu Xiaobo

A Chinese appeals court Feb. 11 upheld the 11-year prison sentence for democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, despite calls for his release from US and European Union officials. Yje organization Human Rights in China reports that in his appeal, Liu's lawyers argued that he was innocent, claiming:

1) The existing evidence does not prove Liu Xiaobo's subjective intent to incite subversion of state power;
2) The charges of inciting subversion of state power against Liu Xiaobo in the indictment are based upon [writings] quoted out of context;
3) The charges in the indictment blur the line between a citizen's free speech and criminal offenses; and
4) There have been major flaws during the investigation, the procuratorate's examination before prosecution, and the trial of this case.

(Jurist, Feb. 11)

China dissident Liu Xiaobo wins 2010 Nobel Peace Prize

Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo was announced Oct. 8 as the winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China." Liu has been one of China's most prominent dissidents. He spent two years in prison following the Tiananmen Square uprising, has long challenged China's one-party rule and co-authored Charter 08, a petition calling for political reforms in the country. He is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence in China for inciting subversion. US President Barack Obama, last year's award recipient, praised the Nobel Committee's decision and called on China to release Liu:

By granting the prize to Mr. Liu, the Nobel Committee has chosen someone who has been an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and non-violent means, including his support for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law... We call on the Chinese government to release Mr. Liu as soon as possible.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Jiang Yu denounced the decision, calling it "contrary to the purpose of the Nobel Prize." Chinese authorities have censored the announcement, blocking internet searches and international broadcasts about it and even turning off phones of people who text-messaged the news. (Jurist, Oct. 8)

Is Liu Xiabo a "counter-revolutionary"?

Several governments heeded China's call for a boycott of the Oslo ceremony at which Liu Xiabo was awarded the Peace Prize in absentia, but Venezuela's Hugo Chávez spoke aggressively in Beijing's defense, saying it acted to protect its "sovereignty"—and calling Liu a "counter-revolutionary." (CNN, Oct. 10)

Chávez's glib betrayal of freedom of dissent is appalling, and certainly China has been run by "counter-revolutionaries" since the Revisionist Coup of 1976. But Beijing apologists in the left-wing blogosphere point out that Liu's Charter 08 does call for abandoning the last remnants of socialism. Even the Beijing-critical China Worker notes that Charter 08 "calls for human rights and democracy, but also a market economy and privatisation in China." One lefty blog quotes from a reprint of the Charter in the New York Review of Books:

Protection of Private Property. We should establish and protect the right to private property and promote an economic system of free and fair markets. We should do away with government monopolies in commerce and industry and guarantee the freedom to start new enterprises. We should establish a Committee on State-Owned Property, reporting to the national legislature, that will monitor the transfer of state-owned enterprises to private ownership in a fair, competitive, and orderly manner. We should institute a land reform that promotes private ownership of land, guarantees the right to buy and sell land, and allows the true value of private property to be adequately reflected in the market.

Can we demand freedom for Liu Xiabo while still offering a critique of his ideas? Can we dissent from his ideas while not betraying his right to express them?

I know, "naive liberal"... Go ahead...

Mo Yan and doublethink in China

The New York Times on Oct. 11 noted that China's official media are effervescent in jubiliation over the Nobel Prize for Literature awarded to Mo Yan, author of Red Sorghum and numerous other works. And indeed Mo's novels seem to display a far greater degree of nuance and opennes than was permissible under Mao. But he still isn't a dissident by any stretch of the imagination. The Times writes:

Mr. Mo, 57, is hardly a tool of the Communist Party; much of his work is laced with social criticism, and he is admired by readers of Chinese literature abroad as much as he is hugely popular in his own country. But he does not consider himself political, and his decision not to take a stand against the government — as well as his position as vice chairman of the state-run Chinese Writers' Association — has drawn criticism from Chinese dissident writers.

Yet all mention of Liu Xiabo's Nobel Peace Prize two years ago was "scrubbed" from the Chinese media. This is what we don't get. Does the Beijing bureaucracy think they can allow openness to the world media when conveninent and bar it when not—and that their own populace won't notice the subrterfuge? How long can they get away with this?

Sooner or later, something is going to have to give in the People's Republic. It will be interesting to see what...


China arrests brother-in-law of Nobel winner Liu Xiaobo

Police in China arrested and detained the brother-in-law of Nobel Peace Prize winner and democracy activist Liu Xiaobo March 29 on charges of fraud. Liu Hui was formally charged two weeks ago in a real estate dispute. Liu Hui's arrest may be retaliation for allegedly subversive activities by the Liu family against the Chinese government. Liu Xia, the wife of Liu Xiaobo and sister of Liu Hui, was under house arrest in December but secretly enabled news reporters and family friends to sneak past security guards who were watching her house. Liu Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence for "inciting subversion of state power" and dissidence.

From Jurist, March 29. Used with permission.

Liu Xiaobo released from prison after cancer diagnosis

Nobel Peace Prize winne Liu Xiaobo  was released on medical parole as he was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer, Liu's lawyer and prison officials stated on June 26. Liu's lawyer Mo Shaoping released the statement and prison authorities have further added that Liu is being treated by eight Chinese tumor experts. The Norwegian Nobel Committee stated that it was "delighted to learn that Liu Xiaobo is out of prison at long last. At the same time the Committee strongly regrets that it took serious illness before Chinese authorities were willing to release him from jail."

Liu has been one of China's most prominent dissidents. He spent two years in prison following the Tiananmen Square uprising, has long challenged China's one-party rule and co-authored Charter 08, a petition calling for political reforms in the country. International organizations have been pushing for Liu's release since he was announced as the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in November 2010. In December 2010 Liu was awarded the Nobel prize in absentia at a ceremony in Oslo. The Chinese government denounced the decision calling it "contrary to the purpose of the Nobel Prize," and censoring the announcement, blocking Internet searches and international broadcasts about it and even turning off phones of people who text messaged the news.

From Jurist, June 27. Used with permission.

Paradoxical legacy of Liu Xiaobo

Liu Xiaobo has died in hospital in the northeastern city of Shenyang, where he was kept under heavy security. This is big news around the world, but not in China. BBC reports on the official media blackout and censorship of social media, purging all mention of his passing. Advocates around the world are charging that he was basically murdered by the Chinese state. Beijing of course responds that it is a "domestic matter." His widow Liu Xia remains under house arrest, and has been incomunicado since the death. (Reuters)

Liu Xiaobo's obit in the New York Times notes his real heroism at Tiananmen Square in 1989, where he kept vigil to protect protesters from advancing soldiers. He'd returned to China from Columbia University where he was a visting scholar to join the protest movement. However, he eventually launched a hunger strike to pressure the students to disperse, fearing a massacre. (On June 4, the massacre came, but it mostly took place in the streets as citizens tried to block the advancing troops; the students did indeed finally disperse when the square was surrounded, and were largely spared death.)

Liu was nonetheless imprisoned in the wake of the massacre, serving 21 months. He has never relented in his dissidence. Liu was again imprisoned and unable to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in person in Oslo in 2010. His place at the ceremony was famously represented by an empty chair.

But the fact that Liu was so avidly embraced by the West should give us pause. The Times obit notes his "support for American government policies, including the invasion of Iraq..."

This is the essence of the divide-and-rule game that defines the international order. Chinese dissidents (some of them) look to Uncle Sam as the guarantor of their freedom, while anti-war protesters in the US (some of them) are full of illusions about China.

Dissidents who take a neither/nor position are less likely to win the Nobel Peace Prize.