Liu Xiaobo, one of the primary drafters of the Charter 08 manifesto by Chinese intellectuals calling for protection of human rights, comprehensive political reforms, and a democratic government in China, has had an official case filed against him for “inciting subversion of state power.” Liu, a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen movement and an influential writer, has been detained a year without charge. Now the strong likelihood of his conviction sends a message to other Charter 08 signatories broadly and other human rights activists that the Chinese government will do what it takes to subvert influential movements toward more political freedoms in China.
President Obama should publicly protest and demand the release of Liu Xiaobo. The U.S. House of Representatives has already spoken forcefully on this issue.
Jeff Bader, Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council, stated that during his trip last month to Asia, President Obama made it clear to Chinese officials that the U.S. would “speak directly to the Chinese about it [human rights] publicly and privately.” Liu’s case is the archetypal example of human rights in China that can and should be publicly cited and discussed by the Obama administration.
The arrest and detention of Liu Xiaobo because of his role in Charter 08 exemplifies all of the universal rights President Obama mentioned in the joint press conference with Hu Jintao and in his town hall meeting with Chinese student in Shanghai. Charter 08 demands political participation along with freedom of religion and expression, all issues Obama included as rights that all people possess during his speeches in China. However, the Chinese governments’ edict for the domestic media to not report on Charter 08 prevents the access of information that is needed to sustain those universal human rights.
A human rights dialogue between China and the U.S. is scheduled for early next year. Human rights are important everyday issues that need to be raised publicly in order for official dialogues to have real meaning and progress. In his Nobel Peace Prize speech, President Obama again argued that “America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal.” Demanding the release of Liu Xiaobo would demonstrate President Obama’s commitment to his words, regain some of America’s leadership in supporting human rights, and amplify Liu’s inspirational voice.