12.21.09

Statement On Liu Xiaobo

Mr. LEAHY.   Mr. President, I want to speak briefly about the indictment and trial by Chinese authorities of Mr. Liu Xiaobo for “incitement of state subversion.”   The evidence cited in support of the charges were Mr. Liu’s essays and association with Charter 08, a framework for democracy, human rights and the rule of law that was made public a year ago this month.  

That document was signed by Mr. Liu and some 300 other intellectuals and activists.  Thousands more people have since added their names, most of them from inside China.  I am told that Charter 08 is widely regarded as the most significant democratic reform movement in China in a decade.

The charges against Mr. Liu are very disappointing.  They illustrate how little has improved in China regarding tolerance for freedom of expression.  I am informed that the Chinese Government has decided to bring Mr. Liu to trial, that international observers are permitted under Chinese law, and this is consistent with international legal standards on the openness and transparency of legal proceedings.  I mention this because I am aware that former Governor of Pennsylvania and U.S. Attorney General, Richard Thornburgh, has expressed a strong interest in attending the trial as an observer, to show support for Mr. Liu and to convey the concern that he and others around the world have for the larger implications of this case.

The arrest of Mr. Liu demonstrates a continuing, disturbing trend in China.  As Governor Thornburgh has written,

“in recent years, China's leaders seemed to be tolerating changes in the legal system. The number of private lawyers and law firms has grown exponentially.  Lawyers and citizens energetically began pursuing rights in court.  A "wei quan," or "rights defense" movement, grew up around lawyers and activists seeking to use the laws on the books, and the institutions allowed by law, to assert and defend human rights without challenging the underpinnings of China's communist system.  Such efforts were tolerated at first, and there were even modest signs of greater professionalism in the communist judicial system.

Unfortunately, initial signs of progress have given way to serious setbacks. Many lawyers who take on politically-sensitive cases have been subject to a kind of backdoor disbarment, finding it impossible to renew their licenses.  Some lawyers have been the target of surveillance, confined to house arrest, the victims of physical attacks, raids and confiscation of their property.  Law firms and other groups pursuing law in the public interest have been shut down.

Moreover, there has been an alarming increase in the use of "subversion" or state security charges leveled against activists.  These cases have become a substitute for the old "counter-revolutionary" crimes.  Others convicted on such grounds include Hu Jia, the AIDS activist who also criticized abuses surrounding the staging of the Summer 2008 Olympic Games and Huang Qi, who posted public information on his website about the government's response to the Sichuan earthquake.

Liu's prosecution requires a serious response from the United States.  Cooperating with China on other issues like the environment or North Korea does not mean we must silence ourselves when it comes to the rights and freedoms of China's citizens.  Indeed, we are unlikely to get meaningful cooperation on any issue when we appear weak in defense of our principles, which as President Obama has said many times -- most recently in his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize -- are universal principles.”

I agree, and hope the Chinese authorities reconsider this case, release Mr. Liu, and dismiss the charges against him.  There are so many issues on which we want to expand our cooperation with China, but the persecution of courageous Chinese citizens who are guilty of nothing more than exercising rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights hinders that cooperation and China’s own development.

If the charges are not dismissed, and Mr. Liu is brought to trial, his trial should be attended by outside observers including top officials of the United States Embassy and Governor Thornburgh.  I hope the Department of State and our diplomats in Beijing will assist Governor Thornburgh, including in obtaining a visa and access to the trial.  It is important that the Chinese Government, and the Chinese people, know how strongly we deplore what is being done to Mr. Liu, and what it says about the need for China to meet its own commitments to respect internationally recognized human rights.

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