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Nobel Winner Liu Xiaobo’s Spirit Lives On

Despite Worsening Repression, Chinese Activists Press for Change

Two years since Chinese Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo died from complications of liver cancer while guarded by state security on July 13, 2017, the Chinese government has neither investigated nor taken responsibility for the circumstances of his death. Instead, it has intensified repression of the human rights activists who carry on his legacy – a grim reality marked just this week by the death of Ji Sizun after another baseless imprisonment.

Liu Xiaobo.  © Independent Chinese PEN Center

A few recent examples: in April, a Sichuan court handed down a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence to activist Chen Bing for producing and selling a liquor in commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. In May, Sichuan police detained Deng Chuanbin, an independent filmmaker, for tweeting a photo of the liquor. In June, Guangdong police detained rights activist Ling Haobo after Ling called on Twitter for Deng’s release.

This July also marks the fourth anniversary of the “709” crackdown: on July 9, 2015, Chinese police rounded up and interrogated about 300 rights lawyers, legal assistants, and activists across the country. Despite sustaining physical ailments and mental trauma as a result of torture by authorities, many continued their fight upon release. The lawyers pledged in a statement released ahead of the anniversary that they would “calmly face the suppression, persecution, detention and even prison sentences” for “pursuing freedom, equity, and justice.”

The activists and lawyers are not naïve about the possible consequences of their actions. Rather – as they often tell me – they feel compelled to act by their anger over injustices, their compassion for victims of abuses, and their friendships with fellow activists and lawyers. Activists have also expressed a desire to honor the life and legacy of Liu Xiaobo – a friend, a mentor, and a towering figure in China’s human rights movement. In his article commemorating Liu, dissident writer Mo Zhixu mused: “It wasn’t through his direct urging and pushing that Xiaobo influenced me, but through his existence itself… He was an example, a role model.” 

“Freedom of expression is… the source of humanity and the mother of truth,” Liu Xiaobo said. Such unyielding faith in the intrinsic meaning of pursuing freedom inspires activists across China at a time of severe government repression – and it will live on. 

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