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Václav Havel Honors a Chinese Prisoner

In response to:

China's Charter 08 from the January 15, 2009 issue

To the Editors:

Readers may be interested to know that Liu Xiaobo, a Beijing-based dissident now being held by Chinese authorities, and the other signatories of Charter 08, have received the 2008 Homo Homini Award in Prague. The award, which was presented by former Czech president Václav Havel on March 11 on behalf of the Czech-based organization People in Need, is given each year to someone who has “made an important contribution to promoting human rights, democracy and non-violent resolution of political conflicts.”

For over three months, Liu has been held in incommunicado detention without access to a lawyer, in violation of Chinese law, for his involvement in the creation of Charter 08. Inspired by the 1977 Czech and Slovak protest movement Charter 77, of which Václav Havel was a founding member, Charter 08 is a document signed by more than eight thousand Chinese citizens that calls for greater respect for individual rights and democratic reform in China [“China’s Charter 08,” NYR, January 15]. Since Liu’s detention, his wife has been able to pay him only two visits, under severely restricted circumstances. His current whereabouts are unknown.

The award was accepted on Liu’s behalf by Xu Youyu, a political philosopher and writer, Cui Weiping, a literary critic, and Mo Shaoping, a leading human rights lawyer. In presenting the award, Havel said:

I would like once more to point out our experience, one that our Chinese friends should adopt in one way or another, the experience that one may never reckon with success, one may never reckon with the situation changing tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, or in ten years. Perhaps it will not. If that is what you are reckoning with, you will not get very far.

However, in our experience, not reckoning with that did pay in the end; we found that it was possible to change the situation after all, and those who were mocked as being Don Quixotes, whose efforts were never going to come to anything, may in the end and to general astonishment get their way. I think that is important. In a peculiar way, there is both despair and hope in this. On the one hand we do not know how things will end, and on the other, we know they may in fact end well.

…It is our experience—and this is perhaps more an appeal to our ranks—that international solidarity is very important and valuable. It helps, even if only as an encouragement to us, rather than as an argument convincing the powers that be. Having had firsthand experience with a totalitarian system and dictatorship ourselves, it is thus our duty to help those who are yet not able to enjoy freedom.*

Li Xiaorong
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland

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