A “Criminal” Wins the Nobel Peace Prize?

By: Chloe Li

A man is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He joins the ranks of Elie Wiesel, Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela. He is a fighter for political reform, an activist, known for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”

But he is in jail, and will be for the next eleven years. He is not allowed to collect his Nobel Prize, and not allowed to have a representative to collect his Nobel Prize for him. On suspicions of “inciting subversion of state power,” and “disturbing social order,” (fancy phrases for “disagreeing with the dictatorial government” and “battling for democracy”) he has been thrown in jail for four times. His wife has been placed under house arrest following the announcement of his Nobel Peace Prize. The Chinese media and government have launched a media campaign against him, calling him a “mad dog,” and insinuating that the Nobel Committee has made a severe mistake in awarding him.

This is life for Dr. Liu Xiaobo, a respected scholar and political activist with a Ph.D. in literature. His work has been praised by acclaimed writers such as Margaret Atwood and Salaman Rushdie, as well as by American President Barack Obama, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. His release from prison has been demanded for by the same people. He is undoubtedly a remarkable champion for the basic human rights and freedoms that few receive in mainland China. But he is, according to the Chinese government, a “criminal”. The Chinese government has called the support for Dr. Liu based on “prejudice and lies.”

In mainland China, though economy is booming and industrial progress is breathtaking, social activism has been ruthlessly stifled by a cruel government. Dr. Liu’s story is one of frequent and brave uprisings against the amoral and shameless oppression of the Chinese government, a story entirely banned in Chinese media.

In 1989, as political pressure was breaking past bearable in mainland China, Dr. Liu Xiaobo resigned his position as a lecturer at Columbia University and returned to his native China to support the thousands of students fighting for democracy. He staged hunger strikes in the now infamous Tiananmen Square. But as violence began to escalate into the gory Tiananmen Square Protests, Dr. Liu became instrumental in the prevention of further bloodshed by persuading students to stick to non-violent tactics of demanding for democracy. For his “crimes” in the Tiananmen Square horrors, Dr. Liu was put in a maximum-security prison and forced to sign a “letter of repentance” for non-existent crimes. His academic works were banned from publication and he was called a traitor by state media. To this day, the Chinese government attempts to clean its hands of the blood of the students killed in the Tiananmen Square Protests—by censoring history textbooks and tormenting individuals like Dr. Liu.

When he was finally released from jail in 1991, Dr. Liu continued to lead extensive efforts to bring about social and political change in mainland China. In 1995, on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Protests, Dr. Liu started a petition calling for the Chinese government to re-evaluate the events of the Protests and demanded for multi-party elections in China. For this, he was put in jail for six months. In 1996, as mainland China was making forceful threats toward Taiwan, Dr. Liu called for the peaceful unification of mainland China and the democratic island of Taiwan. For this, he was sent to jail and punished with a three-year “re-education through labor” program. The program is exactly what its name suggests. Those who are deemed “criminals” by the government, ranging from petty thieves to underground Christians to political activists, are forced to endure brutal labor, in, according to the US State Department, a “harsh and frequently degrading” environment.

In 2008, on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Dr. Liu led wrote “Charter 08,” a document calling for all Chinese citizens to be granted the freedoms of press, speech and religion, equality, and democratic government. These are rights that the Chinese people do not have today. Attempting to bring a democratic, constitutional government to China was the ultimate “crime” for which Dr. Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

In 2010, Dr. Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for this same “crime”. He became the second person in the history of the Nobel Prize to be awarded the Prize while held in prison. Still, the Chinese government refuses to allow his release and refuses Dr. Liu access to a lawyer, stubbornly clinging to its defense that he has tried to “subvert authority and country”.

As Mark McKinnon of the Globe and Mail writes, “Dr. Liu Xiaobo [won] the Nobel Peace Prize, and he [was] the last person to know about it.” Why? Because he is locked up in a jail cell 500 kilometers from Beijing, kept there by a government that is so weak, so faulty, that it resorts to tactics no better than savagery to hide its wrongdoings from its own citizens. But a government like this cannot hide from the world—as evidenced by the harsh disapproval the Chinese government has been met with from scholars and politicians alike all over the world for its treatment of Dr. Liu Xiaobo. Students at NT, too, are taking a stand: “Naturally, I’m against [the imprisonment of Dr. Liu] because it limits free rights and equality,” says Matt Zheng, a Grade 12 student, “If [the Chinese government] locks up a Nobel Peace Prize winner, they’re only limiting their own progress.”Adds Samantha Chong-Luke, a Grade 11 student, “[The Chinese government] is wrong in calling him a criminal. Expressing yourself is not a crime.”

The American non-profit organization Freedom Now has launched a campaign for Dr. Liu Xiaobo’s release from prison. Join them: visit www.freedom-now.org/campaign/liu-xiaobo for more information about Dr. Liu Xiaobo and his work, and support the campaign for his freedom.