Roving thoughts and provocations

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Free Liu Xiaobo Now!

John McConnico/AP Photo
A protester for the freedom of Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo outside the Chinese Embassy in Oslo, Norway, December 9, 2010

The following open letter to the Chinese government was drafted by China Human Rights Defenders and delivered to the Chinese Embassy in Oslo at 3:30 pm today, on the eve of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo. A group of protesters who had gathered in front of the embassy in support of Liu were dispersed by Norwegian police. Readers wishing to sign this letter can send their names to networkcrd@gmail.com.

The Chinese Government Should Respect Universal Values, Respect the Nobel Peace Prize, and Release Liu Xiaobo Immediately

Today, as we gather in Oslo for the award ceremony of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, we take note, with surprise and regret, of the Chinese government’s foolish responses to the granting of this distinguished prize to Dr. Liu Xiaobo. These responses—which have included restricting the freedom of movement of Liu Xiaobo’s family and prohibiting Chinese citizens from expressing their congratulations—are examples of serious government abuses of universal human rights.

During the two months since the announcement of the prize in early October, the Chinese government has not only held Liu Xiaobo in prison and confined his wife, Liu Xia, to house arrest; it also has sharply escalated its use of tactics like detention, house arrest, mandatory interrogations, and raids on homes to intimidate other Chinese citizens. Those who were known to have been invited by Liu Xia to attend the Nobel ceremony have been harassed, issued warnings, and shadowed by plainclothes police. The government has also cast a wide and indiscriminate net in its efforts to prevent from leaving China any person whom it suspected to be conceivably headed for Oslo. Internationally, it has openly pressured other nations not to send diplomatic representatives to the award ceremony.

The Chinese government’s response to the Peace Prize has been even worse than that of Nazi Germany in 1936 when the prize went to the German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky. By making it impossible for either the recipient or any appointed representative to travel to Oslo, China’s response is the most shameful of any government in the entire 109–year history of the prize.

This extraordinary array of disgraceful decisions has caused the Chinese government to suffer a major loss of face that is radically at odds with its vaunted image of a “rising power” in the economic and diplomatic spheres. By violating the minimal expectations of civilized deportment, it has infused its decades-long effort to build international “soft power” with an air of satire.

A Chinese writer—a scholar, poet, and advocate of non-violence—wins a huge international honor, and the Chinese government calls it a “monumental insult.” Yet this response fully accords with the superficial nationalism that the government has been fanning now for two decades. It also exposes a Chinese-style “disharmony” of a serious kind: behind the veneer of a vaulting economy there has been a precipitous retreat in civility and universal values.

We call upon the Chinese government to release Liu Xiaobo, who is in prison only for his words, immediately; to embrace the universal values that are championed by the Nobel Peace Prize; to view the Prize as a turning point for China; to encourage open discussion of Charter 08; and to begin political reform.

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