Nobel winner’s family, friends targeted in China
BEIJING—In almost any country in the world, news of a fellow citizen winning the Nobel Peace Prize might trigger a wave of national pride.
Not in China.
In the month since jailed, dissident writer Liu Xiaobo captured the prize Oct. 8, the Chinese government has locked up Liu’s wife in her own home; cut off her phones; broken up a celebratory party; put friends under surveillance and house arrest; unleashed a torrent of vitriol against Liu in official newspapers; and even threatened other nations that if they dare to attend the prize ceremony in Oslo on Dec. 10, they will “bear the consequences.”
Ottawa pushed that threat aside Wednesday, saying Canada will attend the ceremony and called on China to release Liu.
But still, by any measure, it has been an awesome, month-long display of Chinese government anger here in Beijing and — some say — fear.
Liu, a balding, bespectacled professor with a long history of activism, earned the wrath of the government for co-writing an online petition called Charter ’08, urging China to move towards multi-party democracy and the rule of law.
But the Communist Party doesn’t brook such discussion, and last year a panel of judges put Liu away for 11 years.
Now, with the award of the Nobel, the government has fired up a fresh campaign against Liu, while at the same time targeting his supporters.
Newspapers have carried anti-Liu essays and opinion pieces calling him a “criminal” and “a Western tool” for suggesting an end to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.
Meanwhile the government has suggested the Nobel is just part of an international conspiracy to bring disrespect to China’s legal system.
And Wednesday it took the extraordinary step of quashing any hope Liu might have had to have his own acceptance speech spoken at the ceremony in Oslo.
Liu’s family said Chinese authorities have cancelled their scheduled monthly visit with Liu, apparently afraid that he might pass on a message to be delivered to the world at the December ceremony.
Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, had said after visiting him Oct. 10 that he intended to draft a message.
But Liu’s two brothers and a brother-in-law told the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy that they expect no further family visits until after the ceremony, thereby ensuring no message gets out.
The government’s vitriol has surprised many observers.
“I think we expected some reaction after the award, but nothing quite as brutal as what we have had,” says Kerry Brown, a former British diplomat and senior researcher at London’s Chatham House, the international affairs institute.
“The Chinese response seems primitive and heavy handed. I am amazed that people we thought so powerful can get so offended.”
While many regard the awarding of the peace prize as “dubious at the best of times,” says Brown, “the Chinese elite are reacting like this actually matters — and evidently it does, to them.”
One of the most recent to feel the government’s heavy hand is Liu’s long-time lawyer Mo Shaoping.
Mo was forbidden to leave the country Tuesday — plucked from a line at Beijing’s sleek Capital International Airport just as he was about to board British Airways flight 038 to London.
Mo and well-known Chinese legal scholar He Weifang were headed to the U.K. to address a seminar hosted by the International Bar Association. The topic: the challenges of being an independent lawyer in China.
It turns out that their very inability to leave the country underlined just how great those challenges are.
Yet Mo spoke with a measure of calm approaching pity Wednesday when asked how he felt.
“This just shows they’re weak and incompetent,” Mo told the Star.
Although the border police didn’t spell out precisely why they were stopped, Mo suggested it was clear they were afraid the two were headed to Norway, to attend the Dec. 10 award ceremony.
But they had no such intention, says Mo.
“I explained to them that we were only going to London, that we had return tickets for Nov. 15, and I actually showed them the invitation letter from the IBA,” says Mo.
While the two sipped tea for an hour in a tiny office, police consulted their superiors.
“Then they returned and said, ‘You’re forbidden to leave China because you might harm the security of the country.’ ”
Mo said he’d likely launch a legal suit.
“They didn’t cite any law . . . I had no intention of traveling to Norway,” says Mo.
But Mo and He are just two of scores of lawyers and activists who have been subjected to surveillance, arbitrary detentions and house arrests in recent weeks, almost all signers of Liu’s Charter ’08.
Some, like noted activist Ding Zilin, who heads up Tiananmen Mothers, a support group of mainly women who lost children to government gunfire in the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 1989, has not been seen for weeks.
No one answers the phone at her Beijing home where she and husband Jiang Peikun live. Nor has anyone been able to reach her at a secondary residence in the city of Wuxi since Oct. 9.
In the southern city of Guangzhou, Internet writer Guo Xianling was arrested simply for handing out leaflets publicizing Liu’s Nobel, the American Pen Center reported.