Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Freedom of Speech: Chinese dissident gets support from - within the Communist Party

RFE Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

The prominent Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, jailed for 11 years in December for subversion, has received support from an unusual quarter -- namely, from within the Chinese Communist Party.

Liu's trial and conviction brought China much adverse international publicity. A former university professor, Liu co-authored a document called Charter 08, which called for wide-ranging political reforms that would have threatened the Communist Party's leading role. He was convicted on December 25 of "inciting subversion of state power" and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Now, four respected party members have made an open appeal to the state and party leadership in Beijing to review the conviction. A copy of the appeal appears on the website of the independent Chinese branch of the worldwide PEN club of writers.

The four say in their letter that "if the democracy, the rule of law, and the human rights that we old comrades have struggled for our entire lives is cast aside, then our hearts will never be at peace."

The four are He Fang, an honorary member of the academic committee of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; Hu Jiwei, a former chief of the "People's Daily" party newspaper; Li Pu, a former deputy chief of the official Xinhua News Agency; and Dai Huang, a former Xinhua senior reporter.

All are aged between 80 and 90 years old, and their ages, along with the respect they have as old strugglers for the party, is probably sufficient to preserve them from the wrath of the present leadership.

In their strongly worded open letter, they also say that if the authorities violate the Chinese Constitution, if they don't understand the party's history, cannot draw a difference between right and wrong, and manufacture unjust cases, then the image of the nation will be seriously tarnished.

And tarnished it has been.

The United States and the European Union are among those demanding Liu's release, as well as prominent literary figures, including writers Umberto Eco, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, and Seamus Heaney. Liu is connected with the literary world as the founder of the Chinese branch of the PEN club of writers.

In Prague, former Czech President Vaclav Havel, once a leading dissident in the former communist Czechoslovakia, recently demonstrated outside China's Embassy on Liu's behalf and called on Chinese authorities to stop persecuting human rights activists.

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