Liu Xiaobo’s imprisonment shows dark side of China
The addition of Liu Xiaobo, Chinese academic and human rights activist, to the roster of Nobel Peace Prize winners earlier this month came with both praise and criticism.
Many nations in the Western world including members of the European Union, the United States and Canada lauded the decision. However, the same could not be said for China, whose foreign ministry had forewarned the Nobel committee upon Liu’s nomination and considered the decision to award him the prize contrary to the principles of the award.
More importantly, the Chinese government considered it an illegitimate attempt to interfere with its internal affairs.
This is because Liu Xiaobo has been a political prisoner of the Chinese government since June 2009 on the trumped-up charges of “spreading rumors or slander or any other means to subvert the state power or overthrow the socialist system” and four other times in the past for his non-violent political activities.
Those who are familiar with the Chinese government’s attitude towards dissent and who remember events such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre may say that he was asking for it by co-writing the Charter 08, a manifesto released on the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, calling for greater freedom of expression, human rights and democratic elections.
However, there have always been activists who have been persecuted on the path towards human rights.
Some may also argue that giving the prize to Liu Xiaobo will lead to further crackdown on human rights activities in China and be counterproductive to the promotion of human rights. But this is an illogical argument.
Change does not come out of inaction. Silence will not bring human rights to China. Rather, resistance from the government is a sign that the people are moving in the right direction.
The Chinese government may still be able to throw political dissenters in jail today. But China is no longer the monolithic state that it once was.
In this digital age, even information that is considered subversive to the government may be circulated with tremendous speed within the country despite its national firewall and extensive use of censorship and surveillance. Sooner or later, advocates of human rights will prevail.
If the Chinese government wants to prevent further intrusion of the West into its internal affairs, it should take the initiative and reform its human rights.
This must be done not only in writing as they have done by amending their constitution with the clause, “The State respects and preserves human rights” in compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), but also in practice. Not only is the reputation of the state on the line, so is the future and livelihood of its people.
If China so wants to fool us into believing that it respects human rights by feigning compliance with the UN it must also understand that at that level, the international community has a right to ensure human rights are respected.
China as a UN member is subject to the standards of human rights laws in the UDHR, and the international community has a responsibility to hold nations accountable to that standard.
Regardless of the political motivations of the Nobel committee for awarding Liu Xiaobo the award, there is no question that there is a lacking of personal liberties in China. Slander against the state is only a crime because the country has not embraced freedom of speech and expression.
A man imprisoned for merely expressing his opinion cannot be said to live in a free country.
While China should be applauded for its economic policies that have brought millions of Chinese out of poverty, the Chinese government must understand that no price can be put on freedom. Human rights must come hand in hand with economic reform.