Newsmaker: Chinese Nobel winner a ceaseless campaigner

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (BestGrowthStock) – China’s most prominent dissident, Liu Xiaobo, has been a thorn in the government’s side since 1989 when he joined student protesters on a hunger strike days before the army crushed the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement.

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October, the 54-year-old Liu was jailed for 11 years last year on Christmas Day for campaigning for political freedom.

The stiff sentence on a subversion charge was condemned by rights groups, Washington and many European governments.

China called the award an “obscenity” that should not have gone to a man it calls a criminal, and has exerted diplomatic pressure on countries not to attend Friday’s award ceremony in Oslo.

Liu has been among the most combative critics of China’s one-party rule, and his public comments have frequently riled the government, which insists China is a country with rule of law and which respects fundamental human rights.

“Using the law to promote rights can only have a limited impact when the judiciary is not independent,” Liu told Reuters in 2006, when he was under another period of house arrest, in comments typical of those that have angered the government.

Liu helped organize a “Charter 08” petition which called for sweeping political reform and was modeled on the Charter 77 petition which became the rallying call for the human rights movement in communist Czechoslovakia in 1977.

Liu had been nominated for the Nobel prize by Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright and Charter 77 figure who became president of Czechoslovakia after the fall of communism, and by the U.S. chapter of rights group International Pen.

Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, told Reuters that her husband wanted to dedicate the prize to those who died in the bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters around Tiananmen Square.

“He said this prize should go to all the victims of June 4,” Liu Xia said, after she was allowed to visit him in jail following the announcement of the prize.

“He felt sad, quite upset. He cried. He felt it was hard to deal with,” she said of his reaction to news of his winning the Nobel.

Liu’s wife and numerous Chinese activists have since been put under house arrest or prevented from leaving the country in advance of the prize ceremony.

LITTLE PATIENCE

Liu stood quietly in a Beijing courtroom last year as a judge found him guilty of “inciting subversion of state power” for his role in the petition and for online essays critical of the ruling Communist Party. He was not allowed to respond in court to the sentence.

His case attracted an outcry from Western governments and rights activists at home and abroad.

“He says whatever is on his mind,” Pu Zhiqiang, a friend of Liu’s and a well-known human rights lawyer, told Reuters on the day the prize was announced.

“I don’t think a Nobel prize for Xiaobo or any other Chinese person would have a huge impact upon China’s human rights situation. But it would certainly spur more people to fight for these values, as much as they possibly can,” Pu added.

This is not Liu’s first experience of jail.

The former literature professor was jailed for 20 months after the army crushed the Tiananmen protests and then spent three years in a “labor re-education” camp during the 1990s, as well as months under virtual house arrest.

China, emboldened by its strong economy and the woes of Western powers, appears to have little patience with pressure over its strict controls on political activity.

China’s party-controlled courts rarely acquit defendants, especially in politically sensitive cases.

At his trial last December, the court limited Liu and his lawyers to 14 minutes for his defense — the same time prosecutors spent laying out the charges, said his lawyer.

His writings “had the goal of subverting our country’s people’s democratic dictatorship and socialist system,” read the verdict.

“The effects were malign, and he is a major criminal.”

(Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel and Sanjeev Miglani)

Newsmaker: Chinese Nobel winner a ceaseless campaigner