Liu Xiaobo

World must press China to free Nobel laureate

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 August, 2011, 12:00am


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Last December, I sat in the front row of the audience assembled at Oslo City Hall, watching Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize being presented to an empty chair. His imprisonment brought global attention - for a moment - to Chinese people's demands for fundamental rights. But, after the speeches and celebration ended, the headlines shifted.

The international community's need to engage China on human rights has never been greater. In separate judgments released this week, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has found that China is flagrantly violating international law by detaining Liu and his wife, Liu Xia.

The UN working group, which is made up of human rights experts and considers individual cases of arbitrary detention, found that Liu Xiaobo's imprisonment and Liu Xia's house arrest violate international human rights standards.

In finding that China had infringed Liu Xiaobo's right to freedom of expression, the group said it had 'not shown in this case a justification for the interference with his political free speech'.

The group also found that Liu Xia's illegal house arrest had no justification and that China had violated her right to freedom of expression and due process under law. It concluded with a stern demand: 'Liu Xia's house arrest is to end immediately.'

These UN opinions are unlikely to yield the Lius' immediate release, but their value should not be underestimated. China regularly asserts that it adheres to the rule of law - claims that have now been put to the test and unanimously rejected.

There is moral strength in such opinions being expressed by the UN. These opinions, when combined with political and public pressure, have often contributed to the release of wrongly detained prisoners. Furthermore, China regularly affirms the importance of dialogue and co-operation with international institutions. If it fails to act on these opinions, its legitimacy in insisting that other countries abide by UN decisions will be undermined.

To help effectuate these opinions, the international community must now take action. First, diplomats should try to meet Liu Xia at her home in Beijing. Second, governments should make the Lius' cases a main concern in bilateral relations with China. Finally, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, should seize this opportunity to join the working group in calling for the couple's immediate release.

Governments often find excuses to avoid confronting China. But, with these clear statements, they should have the courage to act.

Jared Genser is the founder of Freedom Now, an international legal advocacy organisation that represents the Lius