Who's afraid of whom at the Lius' home?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2013, 2:52am

You would have to be heartless not to feel sorry for the frightened woman, wearing a beanie against the indoor cold of her Beijing home, who took fright at a bunch of troublemakers barging through her front door last Friday.

You also have to marvel at the temerity of the gatecrashers, who may now be in all sorts of trouble for forcibly entering the home of the jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo and Liu's wife, Liu Xia - and then uploading the entire drama on YouTube just in time for New Year's Eve.

The pretext for this rude invasion was the fact that, according to news reports, it was Liu Xiaobo's 57th birthday on December 29, an occasion he celebrated behind bars for a fourth consecutive year.

Liu will have endured seven more such birthdays before he completes his 11 years in prison. That's the term to which he has been sentenced for "subversion", after the state took a dim view of his contribution to Charter 08, a call for democracy by Chinese dissidents. It was modelled on Charter 77, drawn up by Czech dissidents including Vaclav Havel, the man who would become the Czech Republic's first president.

The demands of Charter 08 seem uncontroversial, calling for rights that Beijing insists are enjoyed by its citizens anyway. I suspect that the real offence caused by Liu Xiaobo is his challenge to one-party rule, and the party's fears inspired by Charter 77's success.

Letting this matter go would be revolutionary, but not in the manner by which the party came to power in 1949. This is probably why they have come down so hard on the Lius (despite her house arrest, Liu Xia has not been convicted of any crime). Freeing Liu Xiaobo and lifting the restrictions on his wife may open all sorts of doors that the party prefers to keep closed. This also explains why Liu Xia looked so worried on the footage.

Like her and her friends, we can only wait to see how Beijing will react to this provocation.

Let us hope it is with leniency. Let us hope the party, with a new security minister, recognises the Lius have been treated too harshly. If it cannot, then we will have to wonder, despite the anxiety in Liu Xia's face, whether it is the party that is living in the greater fear.


Alex Lo is on leave