China’s media warms to the moment as activists join hands to free Liu

16.10.2010 - Hong Kong - Tony Henderson

Over a hundred mainland China intellectuals and activists have issued and signed an open letter urging the Beijing government to release Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and to seize this as an opportune moment to embrace democracy peacefully.

The letter, in Chinese, English, French and Japanese and posted on websites hosted outside the mainland itself, called the imprisoned dissident a “splendid choice”, saying that the prize recognised his beliefs in advancing human rights causes and the peaceful struggle against social injustice.

It was written by Xu Youyu, a retired professor with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and Cui Weiping, a professor and social critic with the Beijing Film Academy.

*”We’re calling upon Chinese authorities to respond to the peace prize with rationality and realism, and to take stock of warm responses from home and abroad to gain clear understanding of the world’s opinion and where people have placed their hearts,”* the letter stated.

Xu Youyu , one of the four drafters of the letter, has stated that the number of signatories was likely to increase.

Another signatory, freelance writer Mo Zhixu, supported Liu not because he was the peace prize winner but because the activist should never have been jailed. The award did help let more people know about Liu and his cause, Mo admitted.

This was the second open letter in three days urging authorities to bend toward universal values such as freedom of speech, which are guaranteed in the country’s constitution, and to go ahead with political reform, which has fallen far behind the country’s rapid economic development over the past three decades.

In a concurrent move, a group of 23 former high-ranking political and cultural officials published a strongly worded open letter to the National People’s Congress 12 October calling mainland media censorship unconstitutional, saying it needs be abolished.

In the letter, signatories pointed out with clear indignation that even Premier Wen Jiabao had been censored by major state-run news outlets, including Xinhua, for his seven calls, made over two months, for political reform. These included the call made in Shenzhen August 21, 2010 and in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on 23 September, 2010.

Those calls have triggered lively discussions among academics and in mainland China media.

The release of the new letter came on the day the Communist Party opened its four-day plenum in Beijing where it delivered a strategic development plan for 2011-2015. The calls for political reform on top of the international coverage of Liu’s award added unusual spices to the most important annual gathering for Party leaders. Signatories of the new open letter called upon authorities to make good on their stated commitments on political reform.

*”Premier Wen Jiabao has expressed strong wishes for political reform in a series of recent talks, and we would like to join the undertaking,”* the letter said.

Liu, a literary critic and activist, is serving an 11-year sentence for subversion after co-authoring Charter 08, a call for political reform on the mainland. The Beijing government announced that Liu is a criminal – at the time the court rejected Liu’s appeal, the bench did clarify that it had found him guilty of exceeding the limits of the freedom of speech – and that giving him the peace prize was an “obscenity”.

However, the signatories have stated that the positive response from the international community to the awarding of the prize to someone representing the human rights movement in China was clearly timely and valid decision.

To boot, they also urged the Beijing authorities to free all prisoners of conscience and those jailed for their beliefs, religions and for simply speaking their minds. “We call upon authorities to free Liu Xiaobo and let him and his wife to go to Oslo to pick up the peace prize.”

However, this is a distant prospect, since the authorities have stepped up a crackdown on dissent since then with Liu’s wife, Liu Xia , under house arrest. Some signatories have also been harassed or been followed by police day and night for publicly expressing support for Liu.

Several national and provincial newspapers have urged China’s political leaders to adopt political reforms as the plenary session of the Communist Party’s Central Committee prepared for its meetings. These were the likes of Modern Express in Jiangsu province, the Xiaoxiang Morning Post in Hunan province, the Beijing News and China Youth Daily, plus Southern Weekend.

This press coverage was another sign that China’s portals of public freedoms were creak open along the corridors of the mainland’s media.

Hong Kong’s legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, said he would be contacting trade unions worldwide to ask them to invite past Nobel Peace Prize laureates to sign a petition urging the Beijing government to release Liu.

There are other brave people who are fighting for freedom and human rights in China, like Wen Jiabao, Liu Xiaobo, Hu Jia , Yu Jie, Tan Zuoren, Ding Zilin and her husband, Jiang Peikun – Ding is president of the Tiananmen Mothers Group, and more. They don’t really make the headlines but on a daily bases make great efforts to strive for justice.

Categories: Asia, Human Rights, International

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