Sunday, January 3, 2010

Words as crimes

On Christmas Day Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison for writing "we should end the practice of viewing words as crimes." The China Geeks blog has just published an eloquent discussion of this case. An excerpt:

Westerners worldwide will wake up tomorrow with gifts under their Christmas trees. Liu Xia will wake up tomorrow — for her, December 26th — with the knowledge that Christmas brought her an empty home for the next eleven years. On December 25th, Liu Xiaobo (Liu Xia’s husband) was sentenced to eleven years in prison for “inciting to subvert state power,” or in other words, writing this.

Liu probably foresaw this outcome when he was writing the document in question — called Charter 08 — for he wrote within it, “we should end the practice of viewing words as crimes.” Liu will also be denied his political rights for an additional two years after his release in 2020. One suspects the dark irony of this is not lost on him, though it may be lost on his captors.

Liu’s conviction was a foregone conclusion — having indicted him, it would have been internationally embarrassing for him to be found innocent — but his sentence was not. While his crime can be punished with up to fifteen years in prison, he could have been sentenced more lightly.


Let us also remember that beyond the political posturing, there are smaller tragedies here. This Christmas, we think of Liu Xia in her home, alone. She has barely seen her husband for a year, and will see him less, if at all, in the next eleven. China has robbed itself of a patriot, but it has also robbed a man of eleven years of freedom, and a wife of her husband. Liu Xia may not be the biggest story here, but she more than anyone — perhaps more than Liu himself — will bear the weight of this eleven year sentence.

More here.

A translation of the verdict can be downloaded here.