Chen Guangcheng is author of “The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man’s Fight for Justice and Freedom in China.”
The Chinese Communist Party has killed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who was imprisoned for more than eight years for his wish to see a free and humane China emerge from decades of violence and destruction. The news of his death fills me with a burning rage and a profound sadness, built on years of watching the CCP destroy lives with impunity, and leaving violence and blood as its prevailing legacy. In this time of grief and mourning, we must not only honor Liu’s life and work, but also act swiftly in his memory to end the continued wrongdoings of the Chinese Communist Party regime.
Liu was a gentle man. A writer and intellectual, he became involved in the democracy movement in China in the 1980s, participating in the 1989 Tiananmen movement and spending time in prison with multiple terms in “re-education through labor” camps as a result. In 2008, he was one of the drafters of Charter 08, a document signed by activists and intellectuals calling for peaceful political reforms. To celebrate Liu’s lifetime of human rights work, the Norwegian Nobel committee awarded him the peace prize in 2010. But by then he was already in prison, unable to receive the prize in person. The authorities placed his wife, Liu Xia, who is guilty of no crime, under permanent guard.
Liu Xiaobo once said, “I have no enemies,” and he took this as the basis for his peaceful confrontations with the Communist Party. Though an elegant concept philosophically, the practical fact is brutally clear: However you choose to regard it, the dictatorship still sees you as its enemy, and will stop at nothing to punish you.
This is the stark, physical reality that human rights activists fighting tyranny must face, every single day. This brutal dictatorship is not beholden to its people or its own laws, and disregards international conventions as it pleases.
It is imperative that the outside world act swiftly and decisively to demand justice for Liu and his wife and to establish new norms in dealing with this violent, cash-flush dictatorship. In doing so, democratic nations need to remember that Western markets are extremely valuable to the CCP. What’s more, Western countries need to bury their anxieties about economic benefits from Beijing, and instead firmly embrace the essential values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and human rights that have made America and other Western democracies great, strong and stable.
Time is of the essence.
To begin with, the international community needs to demand an immediate investigation into the cause of Liu’s death, beginning with a complete forensic examination of his body carried out by an independent international team from outside China. The process and the results need to be transparent and public. The Communist Party has a nasty habit of whisking away the bodies of those it has killed in custody, removing organs and cremating remains to prevent families or forensic specialists from accessing evidence.
In Liu’s case, his death is anything but normal or natural, and the scattered collection of ill-fitting statements and images from the CCP does not create a plausible picture. A few weeks ago, having announced the diagnosis of late-stage liver cancer, the CCP released a video in which Liu Xia is seen feeding her husband, who appears well enough to walk and move around on his own. Two international doctors saw him in the hospital within the past week and said that he was fit to travel by plane — yet the authorities insisted he was too ill to travel. Hence the need for an immediate and independent investigation.
No less urgently, the United States and the international community need to demand the unconditional release of Liu’s wife from house arrest, and the freedom for her to live out her life where and as she chooses. If Liu Xia does not get the necessary attention and support from the world, her fate will quite likely follow that of former CCP central party secretary Zhao Ziyang, who was kept under house arrest until his death. Just as the CCP was never going to allow an ailing Liu Xiaobo out of his hospital prison, so it does not want to see Liu Xia in freedom, since she would surely speak out about the truth of what happened to her husband.
The U.S. government has many other tools in its arsenal, including the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows Washington to freeze financial and other assets held in the United States that belong to foreign officials guilty of human rights violations. Washington should use the Magnitsky Act to punish those responsible for Liu’s death. In this case, given Liu’s high profile, the perpetrators are likely in the highest levels of the Communist Party.
The Chinese Communist Party has made its position clear: It will not adhere to international standards on human rights, and it does not agree to a peaceful political transformation of China.
Now is the time for all of us living in freedom to take our own stand, to collectively demand justice for Liu Xiaobo and for Liu Xia, and to support all those who seek liberty in banishing tyranny from the world.