Human Rights Day 2012: Free Liu Xiaobo!

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Human Rights Day 2012: Free Liu Xiaobo!

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders – December 7, 2012) – Another international Human Rights Day is being marked in China by the Chinese government’s ongoing violations of human rights. Many Chinese prisoners of conscience languish in jail, including the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Prize laureate, the dissident writer Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), whose wife Liu Xia (刘霞) has also been under house arrest for more than two years. Countless petitioners trying to redress injustice have been locked up in Re-education through Labor camps and illegal detention facilities known as “black jails,” and suppression has intensified in Tibet, where nearly one hundred Tibetans have resorted to self-immolation since early 2011 in desperate protest against repression of their religion and culture.

This year’s Human Rights Day arrives against this dreary backdrop in China, as the United Nations observes it every year on December 10 by celebrating—and advocating for—the sanctity and exercise of universal human rights as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year’s theme—“My Voice Counts”—calls for all governments to respect the rights of people to be included in public life and political decision-making, by protecting the rights to free expression, assembly, and association, and right to democratic participation.

“Trying to ‘have a voice’ in China has landed many in prison, labor camp or black jail, whether it’s for disclosing corruption or protesting abuses or commenting on government policies,” says Renee Xia, CHRD’s international director. “The new top leadership headed by Xi Jinping has not shown any sign of changing the troubling reality that Chinese citizens are systematically censored and muted by authorities bent on preserving their own power and the stranglehold of one-party rule.”

This Human Rights Day marks several bitter anniversaries in the annals of human rights in China. Four years ago around this day, members of the Chinese civil society released “Charter 08,” a manifesto on human rights and democratic reform. Demanding political reform and rule of law, those who signed on to the document faced a swift crackdown. Authorities detained and interrogated hundreds of people, and arrested and eventually imprisoned Liu Xiaobo, a key drafter and promoter of the charter now serving the fourth year of an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power.” Since the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Liu in October 2010, Liu Xiaobo’s wife has lived under house arrest in Beijing, and for the first time in 26 months spoke to journalists after they entered her building while guards were away for lunch on December 6.

As some Chinese activists recently began to observe Human Rights Day, authorities have retaliated against them. In early December of last year, police arrested veteran activist Chen Xi (陈西), who had coordinated the Guizhou Human Rights Forum, a loose grouping of activists that was declared an “illegal organization” around the same time. One of the group’s main activities was distributing copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the anniversary of its adoption. Chen was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment just weeks after being detained.

China’s experiment in participatory governance—holding local elections for People’s Congress delegates in 2011 and 2012—has largely been a failure. The elections were marred by flagrant violations of Chinese election laws, particularly when independent candidates tried to run against Communist Party officials. As reported frequently by CHRD, Chinese activists who monitored the elections found that citizens who tried to run as independent candidates were relentlessly harassed—put under surveillance, illegally detained, and even physically assaulted. Though China has laws to protect peaceful assembly and association, meetings held to publicize their candidacy and explain the voting process were often disrupted by police. When voting days arrived all over the country, reports emerged of independent candidates being left off ballots as well as other blatant electoral irregularities, including the stuffing of ballot boxes in favor of Party candidates.

Nowhere is the hollowness of “democratic participation with Chinese characteristics” seen more than in the transition of top CCP leaders. In mid-November, the new seven-member Standing Committee of the CCP Politburo was ceremoniously revealed at a Party Congress after years of speculation and power struggles behind the scenes. To try to ensure a smooth transition, authorities engaged in nationwide security operations to silence perceived dissent. Thousands of Chinese citizens were deprived of their liberties, and at least two petitioners were killed by police in a weeks-long frenzy of “stability maintenance.” Lacking any popular mandate, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang are assuming the Party’s top two positions of power at a crucial time for China.

“Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang have made no indication so far that they’d be willing to put a stop to their government’s perpetual breaches of its own international and constitutional commitments to human rights,” says Renee Xia. “They face critical tests, including whether to free Liu Xiaobo and end repression in Tibet. If they do nothing to change current policies, Xi and Li would simply go down the path of their predecessors, foiling efforts at political reforms that would allow the people to ‘have a voice’ in governance.”

Momentum is building at this juncture for “freeing Liu Xiaobo” and other prisoners of conscience in China. Prominent members of the Chinese civil society are gathering signatures to petition the Xi Jinping CCP leadership to make such a move “as an initial step of political reform.” The citizens who have signed this petition “believe that the existence of political prisoners does not help China to build its image of a responsible world power. Ending political imprisonment is an important benchmark for China to move toward a civilized political system.”

International pressure generated by global and regional human rights bodies, concerned governments and NGOs would add a momentous push for this renewed campaign. The international community must join Desmond M. Tutu, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, and stand with him and more than 130 fellow Nobel Laureates in demanding Chinese leader Xi Jinping to release Liu Xiaobo, the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Prize laureate, and end the house arrest of his wife Liu Xia.

Media contacts

Renee Xia, International Director, +1 240 374 8937,

Victor Clemens, Researcher, +852 8192 7875,   

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