Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize and Background on Charter 08

This year’s recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, the writer, professor and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, currently is serving 11 years in prison and two years’ deprivation of political rights for ‘inciting subversion of state power,’ in part for his participation in the drafting of Charter 08. It is Mr Liu’s fourth prison term in connection with his advocacy for human rights.

Mr Liu received the Nobel Peace Prize for his ‘long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.’ He is the first Chinese person to be awarded a Nobel Prize while residing in China, and one of three people to have received one while in detention.

Mr Liu’s writings are considered subversive by the Communist Party. Because of this, the government has censored his name, and he is little known inside China. The government has taken a similar tactic in response to Mr Liu’s Nobel Peace Prize: news of the award has been censored within the country, and the government has actively blocked Chinese human rights activists from attempting to attend the 10 December award ceremony in Oslo. Among the actions the government has taken, it has prevented those with ties to Mr Liu from exiting the country. The government has also warned other states not to support the award.

Background on Charter 08

Charter 08 was modelled on Charter 77, a 1977 manifesto published by a coalition of intellectuals in communist Czechoslovakia that criticized the government for failing to implement human rights provisions in several human rights instruments that it had signed, including the 1960 Constitution of Czechoslovakia.  Though those who originally signed Charter 77 were arrested on charges of subversion, the text of the manifesto was subsequently republished in major international newspapers, including The New York Times.  Members of Charter 77 went on to take high positions in the government after it transitioned from dictatorship to democracy.

According to OpenDemocracy, Charter 08 ‘calls not for ameliorative reform of the current political system but for an end to some of its essential features, including one-party rule, and their replacement with a system based on human rights and democracy’. The opening paragraph of the Charter reads:

This year is the 100th year of China’s Constitution, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 30th anniversary of the birth of the Democracy Wall, and the 10th year since China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. After experiencing a prolonged period of human rights disasters and a tortuous struggle and resistance, the awakening Chinese citizens are increasingly and more clearly recognizing that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal common values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, a republic, and constitutionalism constitute the basic structural framework of modern governance. A “modernization” bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives humans of their rights, corrodes human nature, and destroys human dignity. Where will China head in the 21st century? Continue a “modernization” under this kind of authoritarian rule? Or recognize universal values, assimilate into the mainstream civilization, and build a democratic political system? This is a major decision that cannot be avoided.

More than 7,000 people, from both inside and outside of the government, have signed the document since it was introduced in December 2008.


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