June 29th, 2017
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: email@example.com
Beijing’s position is clear: China has no dissidents and Liu Xiaobo is a criminal. His offence was to co-author and gather signatures for a landmark call for reforms, though he did not initiate it and was seized before it was released. Though Charter 08 mostly called for the Communist party to uphold commitments made in its own constitution it was a coherent and forthright challenge to the party’s rule, calling for peaceful democratic reform.
There was no indication it had real mass appeal, still less a political impact. But it was a sign of the times. Liu believed the space for civil society was developing. By 2008, despite the tight political grip, China’s lawyers, intellectuals and grassroots campaigners had carved out a surprising amount of room for themselves. In part through the internet, despite extensive censorship, but also through imaginative tactics and discussion, they found new ways to tackle injustices, question authorities and highlight abuses. They grew bolder.
…The Nobel peace prize meant a great deal to Liu – who told his wife he dedicated it “to the martyrs of Tiananmen Square” – and to others like him. But it also spurred Beijing to up the ante in two regards as it sought to stamp out criticism. The first change was very personal: the marked deterioration in the conditions of Liu Xia, who had spoken out repeatedly about her husband, and the extension of pressure to others. Her brother Liu Hui – who had supported her financially and carried her messages to her jailed husband – was jailed for 13 years for fraud. She called it “simply persecution”.
The second was international. Beijing has never appreciated overseas criticism of its human rights record, but after the peace prize it toughened its stance, determined that countries should pay a price for challenging it. The punishment of Norway, because its Nobel committee had made the award, sent a message to the rest of the world: stay out of it. Increasingly, foreign governments have listened.