Allow Liu Xiaobo to recuperate in peace
Nobel laureate, diagnosed with liver cancer, should now be allowed to spend time with family and friends without interference from the authorities
When it comes to defending its authority or political legitimacy against internal challenges or dissent, Beijing is not known for being sensitive to outside criticism of its tactics. A case in point is its reaction to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo. There is no question that it overreached in its efforts to block the honour for the jailed human rights activist and in lobbying other countries to boycott the award ceremony.
It is good therefore that eight years into a controversial 11-year sentence, compassion has finally prevailed in the form of a medical parole. It is sad that this follows a diagnosis of terminal liver cancer and that, if it was to come to this, he could not have been released earlier. He is seriously ill in hospital in Shenyang and under the care of a team of cancer experts, according to Liaoning prison authorities.
After Liu was convicted of inciting subversion of state power, supporters questioned whether he deserved to be in jail at all. He was charged over his co-authorship of Charter 08, which called on Beijing to respect human rights and the rule of law and introduce democratic reforms. But the authorities singled him out from many other intellectuals who signed it. It would not have helped that he had been jailed three times previously over human rights advocacy since taking part in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
Among rights campaigners who have won the peace prize, only Liu and late Soviet nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov were physically prevented by their governments from going to Oslo to accept it. Now that China and Norway have normalised relations frozen for six years over Liu’s prize, some of the rhetoric at the time conveys the strength of feelings then. Beijing described Liu as a criminal, and the award as an “obscenity” and a “Western conspiracy to destabilise the country”. China felt it was being denied credit in human rights terms for eradicating poverty, that its critics were misguided and their ideas ahead of the times in the mainland. Moreover, China insists on non-interference by foreign countries in its legal and judicial systems.
The decision not to let Liu suffer any longer in prison is welcome. Beijing could not afford the risk that the Nobel winner might die there, for it is the peace prize for which he will be remembered and not the crime. We trust that no effort is spared to see that he gets the best medical treatment. It is regrettable it was not provided earlier. On a brighter note, the authorities have freed his wife from house detention to be with him. They should further make amends by allowing family and friends to see him, and spare him further incarceration in the event of an improvement in his health.