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Liu Xiaobo, The Spirit that Cannot Be Imprisoned

Liu Xiaobo, The Spirit that Cannot Be Imprisoned

An interview with Yang Jianli

On December 10th, 2010, The Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee gave the Nobel Peace Prize to famous Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. A year has passed. We have heard nothing from Liu Xiaobo, and his wife Liu Xia is cut off from contact with the world as well. Some organizations will hold events to bring focus on Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia’s plight. Dissident Yang Jianli is heading to Europe to attend a conference on China’s human right situation. He will discuss Liu Xiaobo’s rescue with other conference participants, including former Czech President Vaclav Havel, His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights activist.

Mr Yang was interviewed by a reporter from CanYu, an online Chinese journal.

Reporter: Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a year ago. What effect has that award had on China?

Yang: It is hard to estimate the effect of Liu’s Nobel peace prize on China since China is not a country that allows freedom of speech. Liu Xiaobo’s name is very sensitive there, so it is almost impossible to get people’s real thoughts on it. However, I do believe that Liu’s award marks a historic moment in China. Liu Xiaobo represents China’s democratic force. His Nobel honor indicates the international community’s acknowledgement of that force. It can have a very positive impact on people at large. It may even trigger subtle change in the minds of Chinese Communist leaders and officials. I am convinced that more and more people will come to realize the value of Liu Xiaobo’s ideas and beliefs.

Reporter: But China’s human rights record during the past year is dismal.

Yang: That is true. In the long run, Liu’s Nobel honor will promote in the direction of democracy. In the short term, it has made the Chinese government panic. Since last October, Chinese government has tightened its control of dissidents. Right after Liu’s award was announced, many colleagues were put under surveillance. After the Jasmine Revolution broke out this past spring, the Chinese government again arrested a lot of people. To date, some of those victims are still in prison, including Chen Wei, Ding Mao, Zhu Yufu and Wang Lihong. The Chinese government’s suppression of rights defenders like Chen Guangcheng and Ai Weiwei shows it has no intention to promote human rights. However, we know that human rights and democracy have never been bestowed by those in power. We should not be intimidated by the government’s iron fist attitude. In fact, civil movements in China have never stopped. They have evolved into a bigger scale with more effective means.

Reporter: Ccould you elaborate on the changes you can feel and expect?

Yang: Apart from Chinese government’s infringements of human rights, we should also notice that China’s civil force has grown stronger under the difficult circumstances. In the case of Chen Guangcheng and Ai Weiwei, Chinese citizens got increasingly involved. On the other hand, Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel award has focused more Western attention on China’s human rights issues. During the past year, I have keenly noticed that the international community is voicing more support for human rights in China. This kind of support provides an indispensable condition for the future change in China. I am particularly encouraged by the strong support for Liu Xiaobo and Charter 08 from world human rights leaders such as Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama. They have more than once discussed Liu Xiaobo’s situation with me. I hope to have better and deeper discussions with them this time in Prague. The U.S Congress will also hold a hearing on Liu Xiaobo. I was invited to testify at the hearing, but due to conflict of schedule, I won’t be able to attend. We thank them for their efforts. International support like this is very crucial. During my visit to Europe, I will also meet with some European officials and human rights activists to discuss ways of better supporting Liu Xiaobo.

Reporter: The Chinese government has locked Liu Xiaobo away in prison. We’ve heard nothing from him. Will that stifle his influence?

Yang: I don’t think so. As a famous Chinese intellectual and dissident, Liu has long been a strong advocate for human rights and democracy. His charisma, political ideas and moral image cannot be stifled. Imprisoning him will only help people realize how serious China’s human rights situation is. It will only attract more attention on Liu’s plight. Besides, Liu Xiaobo is not alone in his struggle during the past two decades. He has many like-minded friends and supporters who are continuing Liu’s work. When Liu’s moral image is combined with his supporters’ endeavors in the future, it will have a great impact on China. Liu Xiaobo is a symbol of a powerful force that cannot be erased from China’s future social transformation.

Reporter: The Chinese government has sentenced Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison. Is it possible that he will be released in advance?

Yang: That is our dream and I don’t think it is entirely unlikely. Liu is the world’s only Nobel Peace Prize laureate who is still in prison. Keeping him there is not good for the Chinese government’s reputation. Although it already has a terrible human rights record, I don’t think the Chinese government will hold out much longer on that path. Of course, it will also depend on how effective the civil struggle is and how much pressure the state faces. Today, social conflicts in China are becoming increasingly acute. The economic model that benefits the rich and powerful is experiencing a significant crisis. As a dictatorship, China’s interaction with the international society is changing too. The Chinese government has to evaluate the effects of its internal and foreign policies. The issue of political reform has to be addressed, for China’s stratification and class confrontations are already severe. What Chinese society needs is unity, not further division. As a model for rational and moderate democracy activists, Liu Xiaobo will play a very positive role in China’ future transformation. I have full confidence in a better future for China. For that, I hope Liu will be released from prison soon. This is a step China has to take, and we for our part are making every effort to secure his freedom.

Reporter: Thank you for the interview.

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