Chinese scholar and democracy activist Liu Xiaobo was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize — while imprisoned in his home country. And though the controversy surrounding Liu’s release is half a world away, the effort to get Liu out of prison has ties to Ann Arbor.
Freedom Now — a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C. and founded by University Law School alum Jared Genser — is currently campaigning for Liu’s release from prison in northeast China.
According to an Oct. 8 Norwegian Nobel Committee press release, Liu was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for “his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”
“He took part in the Tiananmen protests in 1989; he was a leading author behind Charter 08, the manifesto of such rights in China which was (going to be) published on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 10th of December 2008,” the press release states.
But before the manifesto could be published, Liu was detained by the Chinese government on Dec. 8, 2008. While in detention, he was held in solitary confinement and was denied access to his lawyers.
Freedom Now works to “free individual prisoners of conscience through focused legal, political, and public relations advocacy efforts,” according to its website.
In a presentation at the Oslo Freedom Forum 2010, a conference about human rights, Genser said the organization exists in order to help individuals who put their lives at risk for the sake of worldwide freedom, democracy and human rights.
“The core of our mission is to support you when your activities put you in harm’s way,” Genser said at the forum.
On Dec. 23, 2009, one year after his detention, Liu was tried for inciting subversion to state power. One of the charges against him involves his signing of the Charter 08.
According to Freedom Now’s website, Liu’s trial was in violation of international standards for due process of law, as neither his wife nor foreign diplomats or correspondents were allowed to observe the trial.
Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison and two years deprivation of political rights for engaging “in agitation activities, such as spreading of rumors and defaming of the government, aimed at subversion of the state and overthrowing the socialism system in recent years,” according to Freedom Now press releases from Oct. 10 and 13.
Beth Schwanke, University Law School alum and legislative counsel for Freedom Now, said Liu is serving this 11-year sentence for inciting state subversion mainly for his role in drafting the charter. Charter 08 called for increased rule of law, greater respect for human rights and an end to one-party rule in China.
“He has quite literally been imprisoned for exercising his freedom of expression,” Schwanke said in a phone interview.
Freedom Now is focusing on drawing as much international attention to the issue as possible and trying to motivate world leaders to call for Liu’s release, according to Schwanke.
“Well, in this instance, China is breaching its own domestic laws as well as international laws, so I think that world leaders need to call on (Chinese) President Hu to immediately release Liu Xiaobo from his unjust imprisonment … ,” Schwanke said. “We’ll also be filing a case before the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention shortly.”
As soon as the prize announcement was made, Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia, and many of the couple’s friends and supporters were placed under de facto house arrest, according to an Oct. 13 Freedom Now press release. Liu Xia was escorted to the prison to inform Liu Xiaobo that he won the Nobel Peace Prize and was immediately escorted back to their Beijing apartment.
Liu Xia still remains detained today and her communication with the outside world has been minimal. Chinese government security agents are in and surrounding the apartment.
According to an Oct. 8 New York Times article, Liu is one of three people to have received the award while imprisoned by one’s own government.
A Chinese official had threatened the Norwegian Committee that relations between the two countries would be strained as a result of its awarding Liu the Nobel Peace Prize and its members’ chastisement of the Chinese government when presenting the award, according to the article.
Liu’s receiving the Nobel Peace Prize has been both productive and counterproductive to Freedom Now’s efforts, Schwanke said.
“Obviously (winning the award is) pretty good publicity,” Schwanke said. “(But given) the Chinese government’s initial reaction, you know this is an extremely delicate issue within China and so it’s possible that it will make securing his release even more difficult.”