Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo’s 11-year prison sentence


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After being detained for more than a year, Chinese literary critic and academic Liu Xiaobo was sentenced, on Christmas Day, to 11 years in prison. The writer’s wife and foreign diplomats were banned from the Dec. 23 trial, which took less than three hours; defense attorneys are not permitted to discuss what transpired.

Liu Xiaobo had been charged with ‘inciting subversion of state power’ for his role as an author of last year’s Charter 08, a call for increased democratic reforms and greater freedoms in China. At the time, more than 300 scholars and writers signed Charter 08; since then, 10,000 Chinese citizens have done so. Among the things Charter 08 calls for is the freedom of expression:


We should make freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and academic freedom universal, thereby guaranteeing that citizens can be informed and can exercise their right of political supervision. These freedoms should be upheld by a Press Law that abolishes political restrictions on the press. The provision in the current Criminal Law that refers to ‘the crime of incitement to subvert state power’ must be abolished. We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes.

Liu Xiaobo has been detained since the eve of the document’s release, which was scheduled to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. John Ralston Saul, president of the International free speech organization PEN, said in a Dec. 25 news release:

Liu Xiaobo’s case is about agreed international human rights standards, not merely the internal affairs of China. China is signatory to international treaties and conventions, and cannot be given a free pass when it acts against its own and international standards.

The case of Liu Xiaobo goes back 20 years, to 1989. A visiting scholar at Columbia University, Liu Xiaobo returned to China and was a key participant -- and advocate for peaceful protests -- at Tiananmen Square. He has spent a total of five years in prison, including three in Re-education Through Labor, for his speaking up at Tiananmen Square and continued advocacy for freedoms and democracy.

Liu Xiaobo, who had his Internet connection cut in 2004, has not been able to make his voice widely heard inside China, BBC correspondent Michael Bristow notes. His advocacy is better known outside the country’s borders -- and ‘he was protected by his international reputation,’ Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch told the Times. ‘This is a lesson for everyone. If Liu can end up in jail, no one is safe.’

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Monday in Hong Kong. Credit: YM/EPA