(New York) – The Chinese government should free the unjustly imprisoned Chinese writer and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, Human Rights Watch said today, a year after the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to award him the Nobel Peace Prize.
Human Rights Watch urged all governments represented at the December 2010 Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo to use the anniversary of the announcement of the prize on October 8, 2010, to call for Liu’s freedom and for an end to the illegal persecution of his family and supporters.
“The Chinese government is put on notice when presidents and prime ministers publicly express concern about the treatment of people like Liu,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “All those who demonstrated support for him should press for his release and for an end to the persecution of others like him.”
In early October, the Chinese government allowed Liu’s brothers to release information that Liu had been allowed out of prison briefly on September 18 to see family members. They also said that Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, who has been held under legally baseless house arrest since the prize was announced, was allowed to visit Liu Xiaobo in August. Liu’s brothers’ reports of Liu’s apparent good health were positive news, Human Rights Watch said, but the Chinese government’s consistent refusal until those visits to allow him the family visits permitted under criminal law are cause for serious concern.
That this information was made available in the days before the Nobel anniversary, a time of renewed interest in Liu’s case, reflects the Chinese government’s calculated and cynical strategy to blunt international criticism, underscoring the extent to which Chinese authorities will go to avoid negative publicity, Human Rights Watch said.
Liu, a well-known writer and critic, was arrested on December 8, 2008, for his involvement in drafting “Charter 08,” a pro-democracy and human rights manifesto consciously modeled on Charter 77, the petition drawn up by Czechoslovakian writers and intellectuals in 1989, before the fall of the Communist government. Beijing police held Liu incommunicado and in violation of Chinese law, without access to legal counsel, under a form of detention called “residential surveillance” at an undisclosed location in Beijing until June 23, 2009.
On December 29, 2009, Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of “inciting subversion.” Since the announcement of the Nobel prize, Beijing police have clamped down on Liu’s family, friends, and supporters. In addition to Liu Xia’s house arrest, all the principal signatories and co-drafters of Charter 08 have been under tight police surveillance, prevented from meeting one another or giving interviews to the media, and denied the right to travel abroad.
In response to the popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, the Chinese government in mid-February began its most severe crackdown on lawyers, bloggers, artists, writers, and others in more than a decade, placing some of them under house arrest. In an alarming trend, Human Rights Watch said, at least 24 people, including the activist artist Ai Weiwei and the human rights lawyer Teng Biao, have been victims of enforced disappearances. Even after they were released, the government imposed onerous restrictions on their freedom of expression and association. A total of 52 others, including the housing rights activist Ni Yulan, have been silenced with specious criminal charges such as “inciting a disturbance.”
“The Chinese government has made its assault on basic human rights in the past year painfully clear,” Richardson said. “The onus is on governments that say they support human rights to demonstrate consistently, publicly, and unapologetically their grave concern about the treatment of Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xia, and all the others wrongly jailed or disappeared.”