Homo Homini and Nobel Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo dies. In China, he built on the legacy of Charter 77
People in Need would like to express deep sadness and great respect towards the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo (61), who succumbed to liver cancer last Thursday, after years of imprisonment by the Chinese regime. Despite persistent repression, he was one of the most prominent Chinese voices calling for the respect for human rights and a dialogue and non-violent resistance to the communist regime and its suppression of basic freedoms. For his significant contribution to the issue of human rights, People in Need awarded Liu Xiaobo with the Homo Homini prize for 2008.
“Liu reminds me of Václav Havel in many respects – an intellectual with strong values, a writer and a poet, but most of all, a human being who was willing to take up responsibility disregarding the risky consequences,” says Šimon Pánek, director of People in Need. “One of the few brave people in this world who was willing to fight evil with great determination and courage. A person who did not consider his own well-being, but rather focused on the future of his country and the lives of its citizens. That is why he became the co-author of Charter 2008, for which he gave up his freedom, and ultimately his life.”
In 2008, on the day commemorating 60 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Liu Xiaobo, together with other Chinese dissidents, signed Charter 2008, which took its inspiration from the Czechoslovak Charter 77. The Chinese signatories, similarly to the Czechoslovak ones, demanded the reform of political institutions and constitutional freedoms, which form the basis for a free and open society. Charter 2008 was subsequently signed by thousands of Chinese men and women.
“China, as a great nation of the world, one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and a member of the Human Rights Council, should contribute to peace for humankind and progress in human rights. But to people’s regret, among the great nations of the world, China, alone, still clings to an authoritarian political way of life,” states Charter 08. “As a result, it has caused an unbroken chain of human rights disasters and social crises, held back the development of the Chinese people, and hindered the progress of human civilization. This situation must change!”
For his courage to call on authorities to stick to what they officially committed to, People in Need awarded Liu – and symbolically, the other Charter 2008 signatories, too – the Homo Homini prize. Liu could not, however, accept the award in person. Shortly after the Charter 2008 was published, he was arrested and held at a secret location, without proper trial or official charges. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison a year later. Liu was incarcerated prior to this, after he actively participated in the protest movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989; he was among the last ones who stayed at the square. However, the detention did not stop him from making further efforts calling for dialogue and respect for human rights. He continued this fight until the end of his life, almost a quarter of which he behind bars.
In December 2008, The Wall Street Journal printed an article written by Václav Havel, in which the former president of the Czech Republic called the world to support Chinese human rights activists. The article was translated into Chinese and it started to circulate and appear on various web sites. “(…) the response of the Chinese authorities to Charter 08 in many ways parallels the Czechoslovak government's response to Charter 77,” wrote Václav Havel. “(…) the Chinese government declined the invitation to discuss with the signatories of Charter 08 the merits of their proposal. Instead, it has detained two signatories, Liu Xiaobo and Zhang Zuhua, both of whom the government has identified as lead actors in its creation. (…) The Chinese government should learn well the lesson of the Charter 77 movement: that intimidation, propaganda campaigns, and repression are no substitute for reasoned dialogue. Only the immediate and unconditional release of Liu Xiaobo will demonstrate that, for Beijing, that lesson has been learned.”
Two years later, still imprisoned, Liu Xiaobo was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize.
The way the Chinese regime treated Liu towards the end of his life is truly alarming. He was released from prison only towards the end of June, due to a rapid worsening of his health condition. Years of imprisonment and a total lack of care made him too fragile to properly fight cancer. He asked to be treated abroad, which was declined by the authorities. Liu died in a hospital in the Chinese province of Liaoning, guarded by two members of the security forces.
People in Need expresses deep respect for Liu's resilience and promotion of dialogue and non-violent resistance to persecution and oppression of the state. The same respect goes to all the dissidents who continue their efforts for a free China.
For more information about the issue, contact Zuzana Gruberová, Media Coordinator of People in Need's Centre of Human Rights and Democracy, +420770101144.