China has flatly rejected calls from the United States to give Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo his freedom following reports that China’s most famous jailed dissident had been released from prison on medical parole after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
The US embassy in Beijing has urged China to give “genuine freedom” to Liu, who has lived behind bars since 2009, and to his wife, Liu Xia, who has lived under house arrest ever since her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.
“We call on the Chinese authorities to not only release Mr Liu but also to allow his wife Ms Liu Xia out of house arrest,” US embassy spokeswoman Mary Beth Polley said, adding that the couple should be provided the “freedom of movement and access to medical care of his choosing to which they are entitled under the Chinese constitution and legal system and international commitments.”
Predictably, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang dismissed these calls yesterday, calling them “irresponsible remarks.”
“China is a country with rule of law. Everyone is equal before the law. All other countries should respect China’s judicial independence and sovereignty and should not use any so-called individual case to interfere in China’s internal affairs,” Lu said at a regular press briefing in Beijing. “We have said many times that no country has the right to gesticulate about China’s internal affairs.”
Liu Xiaobo’s wife and brother have both reportedly visited the 61-year-old human rights icon at the Shenyang hospital where he is currently being treated under heavy guard. One of Liu’s lawyers, Mo Shaoping, has told the South China Morning Post that Liu was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer last month. In a video being circulated on Twitter, an emotional Liu Xia is heard saying: “He cannot have surgery. No radiotherapy. No chemotherapy.”
— Suyutong (@Suyutong) June 26, 2017
Following news of Liu’s failing health, many of his friends, colleagues and supporters have called for him to be given the freedom to seek medical help abroad. US politicians have also joined in these calls with the congressional commission on China urging Donald Trump to intercede on Liu’s behalf so that he can be given an “immediate humanitarian transfer to the United States” for care.
“While we are pleased Liu is no longer behind bars, this is hardly an act of mercy on the part of the Chinese government,” says US Senator Marcio Rubio, the chairman of the commission, in a statement. “How long have the Chinese authorities known of his grave health condition? What are the terms of his medical parole? Will his wife, Liu Xia, be able to permanently oversee his care?”
— China Commission (@CECCgov) June 26, 2017
Liu was jailed for 11 years back in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power” after helping to author the Charter 08 manifesto, which called for 19 changes to be made to China’s government, including the elimination of one-party rule. Previously, Liu had spent decades as one of the most vocal critics of the Chinese government, being arrested multiple times, including in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.
In that case, he was convicted of “counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement,” but exempted from criminal punishment for having convinced students to leave Tiananmen Square as PLA soldiers and tanks closed in, saving hundreds of lives.
In 2010, Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his commitment to non-violent protest and human rights, much to Beijing’s displeasure. China quickly froze relations with Norway (they were only normalized again this year) and heavily censored news about the award. During the ceremony, the Nobel diploma and prize were both symbolically placed on an empty chair.
The revelation that Liu is approaching death has inspired a number of near-obituaries in Western media outlets, discussing what his fate means for China, along with an op-ed in the Global Times that takes a different tone, concluding that:
Liu has long separated himself from Chinese society. He is almost an outsider to China’s development. If he is willing to go abroad, that is perhaps partly out of the despair he feels from being marginalized by Chinese society and constitutional order.
China has not collapsed as the West forecast in the 1980s and 1990s, but has created a global economic miracle. A group of pro-democracy activists and dissidents lost a bet and ruined their lives. Although Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he is likely to face tragedy in the end.
At that Nobel ceremony in 2010, actress Liv Ullman read aloud from a self-defense speech that Liu had given at his trial the previous year, which includes the words:
“I have no enemies and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested, and interrogated me, none of the prosecutors who indicted me, and none of the judges who judged me are my enemies.”
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