What Bearing Witness Means: Liu Xiaobo Edition
3:22 PM, Feb 9, 2010 • By KELLEY CURRIE
On Christmas Day 2009, the Chinese regime sentenced writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison for "incitement to subvert state power." His crime was co-authoring and circulating on-line a manifesto for democratic change in China called Charter 08, an intentional homage to the Czech dissident movement's Charter 77. Charter 08 got Mr. Liu into trouble because it challenged the legitimacy of one-party rule by the Chinese Communist Party.
Mr. Liu's trial was the usual Kafkaesque totalitarian exercise: brief, closed, and one-sided, with a pre-determined outcome cleared at the highest level of the Chinese regime. The official U.S. response to this outrageous detention was a mild December 24 statement from the Acting Press Spokesman at the State Department. There has been nothing further from either Secretary Clinton or President Obama, despite Liu being among the most prominent dissidents in China and having received one of the harshest sentences in recent memory for a non-violent political crime.
Liu prepared a statement that he intended to read as part of his defense, as was his right under Chinese law, but he was denied the opportunity by the kangaroo court -- which also barred his wife and diplomatic observers from the courtroom. His statement has now been made public outside China, and has been elegantly translated into English by David Kelly, a China scholar at the University of Technology, Sydney (Australia). The entire statement is a must-read, simultaneously evocative of the gospel of Christ, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the poetry of Yeats. It is imbued with the hopeful patriotism of a dissident and the complex humanity of a man who has willingly taken on the risks of challenging an unyielding authoritarian state. His love for his country and for his wife are incredibly moving, but by far the most remarkable aspect of this text is his equanimity after two decades of persecution by the Chinese state. He thanks his jailers and even compliments them on improving their facilities since his prior incarceration. He expresses respect for the individuals involved in his prosecutions, but is relentless in his critique of the system that they operate within. It is an incredible combination of defiance and forgiveness: