Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel: One Year Later
In none of these phrases did Liu call for the overthrow of the government. He merely expressed opinions, offered critiques of the current state of affairs, and propounded ways to make life in the People’s Republic of China better, more democratic, and more just.
Recounting the experiences of PEN’s delegation to China this summer, Fraser told the committee there are signs that the heavy-handed effort to silence Liu Xiaobo, PEN members Teng Biao and Ye Du, and others early this year, has not quashed dissent in China. Citing the collision of two high-speed trains outside Wenzhou the final weekend of the delegation’s visit, she observed:
The government’s attempts to cover it up—which included trying to literally bury the train at the scene—sparked outrage around the country; in five days, Chinese citizens posted 25 million messages critical of the government’s handling of the accident on China’s microblogs. That campaign, which seemed unprecedented in its breadth and tenacity, has since been emulated in several other scandals and tragedies. These widespread criticisms of course caught the eye of censors, but not before the government was forced to reverse course and, in some instances, apologize.
We are witnessing a “surge of activism, of citizens simply asking ‘why?’” in China, Fraser reported—a question that is starting to extend to political prisoners. Everyday Chinese are risking their safety to try to visit blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who is under unlawful house arrest with his family—much like Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia—following his release from prison. Thugs stand at the gates of Chen’s village, a visible warning to Chinese and foreign visitors alike that their presence is most unwelcome. Often those warnings are expressed with fists and blows. But the visitors are undeterred. Despite the threat of beatings, they continue to try, to make the public pilgrimage to Chen’s village to see for themselves that China has imprisoned a free man, and to tell their friends what they saw. The ripple of questions and criticism has begun in China. Will the Chinese people now start asking why their own Nobel Peace Prize laureate remains inside prison walls? His name remains largely unknown outside the human rights and scholarly communities in China, and many don’t even know that one of their fellow citizens won the coveted award. But the space for questions is opening up, as people find new ways to circumvent the heavy hand of censorship and to seek and impart information. The most important thing that we in the international community can do is to support this space, help it grow, and ensure that our calls for the release of political prisoners like Liu Xiaobo are heard, and reverberate, within the country. Watch PEN’s testimony before Congress here, beginning at approximately 27:00. Take action for Liu Xiaobo: Write a letter to the Chinese authorities, calling for his release. Want to do more? Pass this post along, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and most importantly, join PEN and our member-based Freedom to Write Committee to work more closely on these and other cases.