Friday, October 8

Imprisoned Chinese Human Rights Activist Liu Xiaobo Awarded 2010 Nobel Peace Prize

4 June 2009, Victoria Park, Hong Kong

The day dawned with heavy rainstorms but by evening the streets had dried and a nearly full moon rose in a cloudless sky to reveal 150,000 Chinese gathered in Victoria Park. The assemblage was so large it spilled into nearby streets and shut down traffic. By the time the speeches and songs got underway the crowd represented the largest ever gathered in Hong Kong to remember what is often referred to simply as "Tiananmen." Suddenly the electric lamps lighting Victoria Park were extinguished. Then thousands in the gathering lit white candles set in inverted conical paper shields.

Liu Xiaobo in 2008

"Liu Xiaobo, 54 years of age, is a human rights activist who has called on the Chinese government to be accountable for its actions. He has been detained, arrested, and sentenced repeatedly for his peaceful political activities, including participation in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989."

"Liu, along with more than three hundred Chinese citizens, signed Charter 08, a manifesto released on the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 10, 2008), written in the style of the Czechoslovak Charter 77 calling for greater freedom of expression, human rights, and for free elections. As of May 2009, the Charter has collected over 8,600 signatures from Chinese of various walks of life. ...

"Late in the evening of December 8, 2008, two days before the official release of the Charter, Liu Xiaobo was taken away from his home by police. Another scholar and Charter 08 signatory, Zhang Zuhua, was also taken away by police at that time. According to Zhang, the two were detained on suspicion of gathering signatures to the Charter. While Liu was detained, in solitary confinement, he was not allowed to meet with his lawyer or family, though he was allowed to eat lunch with his wife, Liu Xia, and two policemen on New Year's Day 2009.

"On June 23, 2009, the Beijing procuratorate approved Liu Xiaobo's arrest on charges of "suspicion of inciting subversion of state power," a crime under article 105 of China's Criminal Law. ...

"On December 25, Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to eleven years' imprisonment and two years' deprivation of political rights by the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court on charges of "inciting subversion of state power."

Many arrived at Victoria Park because they'd attended every annual Tiananmen commemoration that had been held in Hong Kong. They were joined by Hong Kongers who were angered by their administration's attempt to appease Beijing by barring democracy activists from entering Hong Kong territory for the commemoration and trying to downplay the massacre, which has been called by one Chinese "the darkest day in China's history." Commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre is banned on the Mainland.

OSLO, Norway (Oct. 8 - Associated Press) Imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for "his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights" - a prize likely to enrage the Chinese government, which had warned the Nobel committee not to honor him.

Thorbjoern Jagland, the Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman, said Liu Xiaobo (LEE-o SHAo-boh) was a symbol for the fight for human rights in China and the government should expect that its policies face scrutiny. ...

In China, broadcasts of CNN, which is available in tourist hotels, upmarket foreign hotels and places where foreigners gather, went black during the Nobel announcement and when reports about the award later aired.

China's Foreign Ministry did not immediately comment, but a spokeswoman said recently that choosing Liu would go against the prize's aims.

"The person you just mentioned was sentenced to jail by Chinese judicial authorities for violating Chinese law. I think his acts are completely contrary to the aspirations of the Nobel Peace Prize," said spokeswoman Jiang Yu. ...

Unlike some in China's highly fractured and persecuted dissident community, the 54-year-old Liu has been an ardent advocate for peaceful, gradual political change, rather than a violent confrontation with the government. ...

It was the first Nobel for the Chinese dissident community since it resurfaced after the country's communist leadership launched economic, but not political reforms three decades ago. ...

The Nobel citation said China's new status a big economic and political power must entail increased responsibility.

"China is in breach of several international agreements to which it is a signatory, as well as of its own provisions concerning political rights," it said, citing an article in China's constitution about freedom of speech and assembly.

"In practice, these freedoms have proved to be distinctly curtailed for China's citizens," the citation said. ...

In a year with a record 237 nominations for the peace prize, Liu had been considered a favorite, with open support from winners Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and others. ...

Of course symbolic acts and mass demonstrations are never enough to win or preserve freedom. Yet if we consider that it was not without risk that thousands of Hong Kong residents gathered in public to light a candle, the symbolism of the event takes on profound meaning.

If the young ask why the process of democratization is so agonizingly slow and tyranny so often wins -- because democracy is not based in the voting booth, laws, street protests, armed revolution, or the size of crowds.

Democracy's defense, it's only reliable defense, is an arduous process of reasoning about the fundamentals of human freedom coupled with a thorough knowledge of history. If those exercises are absent it's easy for large numbers of people to accept a mirage in place of freedom and human parrots in place of democratic leaders.

"Charter 08
Specific demands:

1. Amending the Constitution.
2. Separation of powers.
3. Legislative democracy.
4. An independent judiciary.
5. Public control of public servants.
6. Guarantee of human rights.
7. Election of public officials.
8. Rural–urban equality.
9. Freedom of association.
10. Freedom of assembly.
11.Freedom of expression.
12. Freedom of religion.
13. Civic education.
14. Protection of private property.
15. Financial and tax reform.
16. Social security.
17. Protection of the environment.
18. A federated republic.
19. Truth in reconciliation.

The historic candlelight vigil in Victoria Park was photographed for Reuters by Bobby Yip.

Text in italics is from my June 4, 2009 post in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests.

Text in quotation marks is from Wikipedia's articles on Liu Xiaobo and Charter 08

The Associated Press report was written by Bjoern H. Amland and Karl Ritter.

The photograph of Liu Xiaobo was taken by Associated Press for Kyodo News.

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