The Fate of Liu Xiaobo

The Fate of Liu Xiaobo

More than just a dissident, he is a symbol of China's democratic aspirations.


Next week marks two anniversaries for China: one year since dissident Liu Xiaobo disappeared into the maw of the state-security apparatus, and one year since the manifesto for political reform he helped draft, Charter 08, was made public. As the country's human-rights situation continues to deteriorate, the world must not forget Mr. Liu and the sacrifices he has made for China's political modernization.

The 53-year-old literature professor was formally arrested by police in June and accused of "agitation" and "subversion." His real crime was to give lie to the idea that the Chinese people are unconcerned by the authoritarian nature of their government. Since it was unveiled, Charter 08 has garnered thousands of signatures of Chinese from all walks of life. That's despite the fact that signatories knew at the very least they would be harassed by the authorities; some were detained during President Obama's recent visit.

These citizens took great personal risks simply to ask the government to live up to ideals enshrined in its own constitution, ideals that have never been put into practice. These include civil liberties such as freedom of expression and equal protection under the law. The charter also calls for democratic elections to form a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

President Obama reportedly raised Mr. Liu's case in private talks with China's leaders this month. But so far that seems to have had little effect; his detention without trial was recently extended for another two months. Defense lawyer Mo Shaoping has been prevented from formally taking the case, on the grounds that he is also a signatory to Charter 08.

Maximum pressure from all quarters is needed for Mr. Liu's release, because once an indictment is issued there is little chance that he will escape a long prison sentence. Mr. Liu and Charter 08 are important symbols of the Chinese people's yearning for political reform to accompany decades of successful economic reforms. It is critical that he not suffer the fate of his predecessors, many of whom vanished into the prison system and then were forced abroad into exile.