The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned democracy advocate and onetime University of Hawaii visiting scholar Liu Xiaobo is a strong reminder, particularly in Hawaii, that China’s intolerance of basic human liberties cannot go unchallenged.
Liu, a former Beijing Normal University professor, participated in graduate seminars at UH-Manoa in early 1989 and went on to Columbia University before returning to Beijing in May of that year during the Tiananmen Square demonstration. He and three other respected intellectuals are credited with preventing a bloodbath by staging a 72-hour hunger strike and negotiating the protesters’ safe exit from the square.
"He’s somebody who is trying to move things ahead by peaceful means," UH philosophy professor Roger Ames, Liu’s host at that time, told the Star-Advertiser’s Craig Gima. "He’s an impassioned, single-minded representative of a different vision for China than the government has."
China’s degree of authoritarianism is as contemptuous as Liu’s desire of freedom is inspiring. After the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced Liu’s selection, none of the Chinese-language state media or the main Internet portals in China carried the information. The government appears to have blocked text messages bearing Liu’s name from mobile phones.
Liu remains locked up in a cell 300 miles from Beijing, where he is serving an 11-year term on subversion charges. He was arrested in December 2008 for his part in the authorship of a petition demanding a guarantee of civil liberties, judicial independence and political reform that ultimately would end the Communist Party’s absolute grip on power.
Liu served other prison terms in the 1990s for petitions and essays criticizing the government and calling for democracy and human rights. He has been stripped of his teaching credentials since 1991.
The Nobel committee praised China lifting hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty. This progress could lead to growing economic and cultural ties with Hawaii, with an influx of newly affluent Chinese visitors to our shores. But the committee rightly chastized China’s human rights record, and Hawaii state officials should be candid about what the committee rightly described as freedoms that "have been curtailed for China’s citizens."
Such candor could put pressure on China to release its best-known dissident from prison. Liu Xia expressed "hope that the international community will take this opportunity to call on the Chinese government to press for my husband’s release." President Barack Obama urged China to free Liu "as soon as possible."
Alison Conner, a UH law professor, and other scholars, lawyers and human rights activists have lobbied the Chinese to release Liu. Conner said the way Liu was tried was "just terrible." His continued confinement is even worse, and public officials in Hawaii and elsewhere should join in urging that he be released.