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China's Liu Xiaobo wins Nobel Peace Prize
Published on Dec. 10, 2008, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the charter "was to put a stake in the ground and say here's an alternate vision of China," said Perry Link, the renowned China scholar who worked with the group to translate their manifesto into English. "It was definitely a long-term program."
Among the demands were for a judiciary not controlled by the Communist Party, meaningful elections and the freedoms of association, assembly, expression and religion. "The current system has become backward to the point that change cannot be avoided," the charter read. "This situation must change! Political democratic reforms cannot be delayed any longer!"
Liu played an important role as the crafters of the charter hashed out the wording, Link said. He fought to excise any mention of the banned sect Falun Gong from the document because, he argued, the charter's purpose should not be to deal with specific human rights cases.
And he helped work out a compromise over mentioning the Tiananmen Square crackdown - which was raised in the preamble but not in the body of the charter.
Link, who spent much of that month talking with Liu and others as the manifesto went from one draft to another, recalled that Liu wasn't a leader of the group in the beginning. "But once he saw it was going somewhere, he naturally volunteered to be out front," Link said.
Liu didn't hog publicity, Link added, "he just doesn't shrink from putting his head on the line. He was like a moth to the flame."
After he was sentenced, Liu's lawyer released a simple statement from his client: "I have long been aware that when an independent intellectual stands up to an autocratic state, step one toward freedom is often a step into prison," it said. "Now I am taking that step; and true freedom is that much nearer."
Ai Weiwei, a signatory of the Charter 08 document who designed the Bird's Nest stadium for China's Summer Olympics, said Friday's award was at least a sign that "the world is paying attention to China."
But the award "won't change much in China," Ai predicted. "More people need to wake up."
Liu has taken risks with his life throughout his career. In 1989, he left a cushy post as a visiting scholar at Columbia University to return to China to participate in demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.
On the night of June 3, 1989, he was one of four dissidents who negotiated with the People's Liberation Army to allow the last several hundred students to peacefully vacate the square. After the crackdown he spent two years in jail.
Liu was dispatched to a reeducation camp in 1996 for co-writing an open letter that demanded the impeachment of then-President Jiang Zemin.
From then until his arrest in December 2008, two days before the charter was released, Liu lived a life of constant harassment by the security services. He was repeatedly questioned because of his views or his essays, which were passed online by thousands of his readers.
Liu's wife said the toughest time for her was after he was arrested in 2008 but before he was indicted. He basically disappeared, she said, into the maw of China's security state.
"For those 61/2 months, I only saw him twice, it was weird for both of us," Liu Xia recalled. "I was taken to a hotel in a suburb of Beijing, Xiaobo was taken there, too, and he told me he didn't know where he was."
But when the indictment came, "I felt very calm," she said. "I told our lawyer that Xiaobo would probably be sentenced at least 10 years. Then it came out 11, very close to what I expected."
Correspondent William Wan in Beijing contributed to this report.