Merry Christmas: Liu Xiaobo Will Be Sentenced Tomorrow

December 24, 2009

I hope you've heard of Liu Xiaobo. He is a person worth knowing -- and honoring.

Liu was a professor at Columbia University when, in 1989, he returned to China to take part in the pro-democracy movement. We all know how that ended. After the government's ruthless massacre of dissidents in Tiananmen Square and elsewhere, Liu was sentenced to two years in prison. Two years in a Chinese prison can be pretty intimidating. But not for Liu. He continued to write and protest, activity which earned him three years in a "re-education" labor camp. This was not an arts and crafts camp. (It could be called Camp No Inquiry.)

But even these three years of brainwashing didn't take, and Liu has continued to be a leading activist; he is one of those brave individuals who are putting their careers and lives at risk by attempting to obtain basic freedoms for the Chinese people.

Liu was arrested again last year and he was recently put on trial. As this article from the Telegraph relates , Liu's trial was a joke. Liu will receive his sentence tomorrow --Christmas Day.

And what was Liu's crime? "Subversion of state power" by means of writing and circulating a petition called Charter 08. What did Liu and others call for in Charter 08? You can read the whole text , but essentially they are asking for freedoms most in the West both take for granted and consider fundamental, such as the freedoms of speech, belief, association, and assembly. Charter 08 starts with a call for recognition of these fundamental freedoms because, as it aptly states, "freedom is at the core of our universal values."

China, by the way, with the shameless hypocrisy typical of authoritarian states, actually pretends to honor such freedoms because it is a signatory to the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Apparently these rights are fine, just as long as no one actually tries to exercise them.

It is a serious matter when people anywhere are denied basic freedoms. It is a very serious and troubling matter when those freedoms are denied to 20% of the world's population. And when the United States barely utters a peep in protest.

CFI, as you know, is engaged in a Campaign for Free Expression. In my view, Liu Xiaobo's plight poignantly underscores the value and the vulnerability of fundamental freedoms, such as the right to free speech. Moreover, his heroism should serve as a clarion call to us to take action to promote and defend these freedoms. When we have the luxury of protesting freely, inaction is not only inexcusable but morally indefensible.