Three Gorges Probe

Trial today, prison tomorrow: China’s rites of Christmas (Update 1)

(December 23, 2009) Today, China tried that country’s most prominent dissident, Liu Xiaobo. Tomorrow, Christmas Eve, it will sentence him. He is expected to get 15 years for “inciting subversion of state power” for co-authoring “Charter 08” — a petition signed by some 10,000 fellow citizens calling for democratic reforms and the rule of law.

To keep some of those 10,000 citizens from sharing responsibility for his “crime” by attending his trial, authorities swept through the ranks of China’s democracy advocates, intellectuals and scholars, putting many of them under police supervision – de facto house arrest – and scooping up others for delivery to “vacation villages” until Liu Xiaobo is well and truly locked away.

The Chinese government – the Communist Party of China – may appear the picture of confidence and power in recent international fora, but to its own people, and to itself, it has lost all moral authority.

A subtle shift is occurring in China. Lawyers are using the country’s laws to defend themselves and their clients. Scholars and intellectuals are showing up in solidarity to witness show trials like that of Tan Zouren who sought justice for the parents of children crushed in their schools during last year’s earthquake. Citizen journalists are using the Internet to take over the news from state mouthpieces. And public opinion leaders are signing on to petitions like Charter 08 with their real names, sending a message to the authorities that they are prepared to stand to account for their views, and challenging the Chinese authorities to do the same.

The power of this shift is not lost on Chinese authorities. That is why they have chosen to dispose of the troublesome Liu Xiaobo on Christmas Eve, hoping that the distraction of a holiday will disperse the world’s outrage. But with this cowardly act the Chinese government has sent the clearest possible message to its own people, and to the world, that it knows that what it is doing is wrong and that it has no moral authority, even in its own eyes.

Patricia Adams, Probe International, December 23, 2009

Patricia Adams is Executive Director of Toronto-based Probe International.

Update: News reports now indicate that Liu Xiaobo’s verdict will be postponed until Christmas day.

See photos from the trial.

More coverage:

From the Wall Street Journal: “While millions of Christians are commemorating the day “grace and truth” became incarnate in Bethlehem, Liu Xiaobo will be sentenced for speaking truth to communist power. This callous exploitation of Christmas should inspire freedom-loving people, whether Christian or not, to keep Mr. Liu and his family in their thoughts over the holiday.” Read the full story.

From the Associated Press: “Coming despite months of international pressure on China to release Liu, the trial underscores the government’s determination to squelch dissent and other perceived threats to political stability in the one-party state.” Read the full story.

From the Los Angeles Times: ” ‘The case sends a message domestically to the Chinese citizenry and intellectuals that they should not do anything untoward, and to the international community about how much China takes into account outside pressure, ‘ said Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher for the nonprofit group Human Rights Watch.” Read the full story.

From the Christian Science Monitor: “The decision by Chinese authorities to bring Liu to trial defied international condemnation and drew protests from leading authors, including Salman Rushdie, Umberto Eco, and Wole Soyinka.” Read the full story.

From the BBC: ” ‘If he is found guilty, this will be a problem because it will mean that the freedom of speech and freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution are fake.’ says Bao Tong, the most senior official imprisoned following the Tiananmen massacre. ” Read the full story.

From the Washington Post: “China has been flexing its newfound economic preeminence on the world stage of late. But back home, its ruling Communist Party remains desperately afraid of dissent and hooked on old-fashioned repression.” Read the full story.

More from the Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Liu’s trial comes amid other moves to tighten already-tough limits on dissent. Authorities have been closing hundreds of Web sites as part of a campaign against what the government calls Internet pornography. Last week they formally arrested Zhao Lianhai, who had been organizing families of babies affected by last year’s tainted-milk scandal.” Read the full story.

From the Voice of America: “In its strongest language on the Liu case to date, the State Department says the prosecution of the dissident figure is a political trial that will likely lead to a political conviction and is an action that is uncharacteristic of a great country.” Read the full story.

From the Irish Times: “China’s economy is booming and the country is becoming more open and international, but the Communist Party refuses to relax its iron fist on dissent. Inciting subversion is a blanket charge used against people who criticise the party and its policies, and it has been used to jail a number of dissidents in recent years.” Read the full story.

From AFP: “Diplomats from more than a dozen countries including the United States, Britain, Canada, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand stood outside the courthouse for the duration of Liu’s trial, having been denied access to the courtroom.” Read the full story.

From the Taiwan News: “If Chen Yunlin expects people in Taiwan to take seriously his declaration that the PRC side will ‘absolutely respect’ the right of opponents to express their views, he should tell his bosses in Beijing to first show that they will implement this principle at home with respect to their own citizens and immediately release Liu and drop the absurd charges of ‘inciting subversion of state power’ against him.”Read the full story.

Liu Xiaobo: China’s top pro-democracy dissident goes on trial

Regarding the Tan Zouren case

Dick Thornburgh’s call to witness Liu Xiaobo’s trial

Call To Attend Liu Trial

Charter 08

Photos from outside Liu Xiaobo’s trial.

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