Asia-Pacific, Europe, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS: Chinese Dissident Wins More Backing for Nobel

Pavol Stracansky

PRAGUE, Feb 10 2010 (IPS) - Politicians in the Czech and Slovak republics have won wide support for a public campaign backing a Chinese dissident for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Chinese authorities jailed Liu Xiaobo for 11 years in December after he co- wrote an appeal called Charter 08 calling for an end to Communist Party dominance, and for political freedom.

Charter 08 was inspired by the Charter 77 human rights manifesto drawn up by iconic Czech communist dissident Vaclav Havel and others in 1977 in what was then Czechoslovakia. It galvanised dissident groups and paved the way for the fall of communism and the Velvet Revolution just over a decade later.

Now 91 Czech and Slovak politicians as well as rights groups, former dissidents and Charter 77 signatories, including former Czech president Havel, have nominated Liu for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The move has been hailed by rights groups who say leaders have been more interested in building economic ties with China than in speaking out on human rights abuses in the country.

Eva Dobrovolna, spokeswoman for Amnesty International in the Czech Republic, said the nomination was a landmark move for Czech politicians, who she said rarely challenged China publicly on its human rights record.

“We are pleased that Czech politicians who usually avoid the subject of human rights in China have spoken up and supported this. It is a great move and an encouraging signal from them,” she told IPS.

She added: “The nomination of Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize is a strong gesture of support not just for him but for all Chinese dissidents. If he wins the prize it will be not just for him, but for all the dissidents and people battling for human rights in China.”

Since the emergence of China as a world trading power in the last decade, both the Czech and Slovak governments have looked to expand trade ties with Beijing. But critics say this has often led them to ignore human rights abuses in China in official policy.

The Slovak government led by the left-wing Smer party has in particular been accused by rights groups of currying favour with China to the extent of completely refusing to broach the subject in official talks.

In a controversial incident last year activists protesting human rights abuses in China outside the Chinese embassy in Bratislava during an official visit by the Chinese President were assaulted by pro-Beijing groups. The police were accused of failing to intervene effectively.

There is now some dispute over the nomination for Liu after Slovak government MPs ignored it. Members of some NGOs say MPs from all other political parties have backed the nomination, but that the government in Slovakia was “too scared” of China to support it.

Milan Nic, co-organiser of the nomination campaign and head of the NGO Pontis Foundation in Slovakia, told IPS: “They fear that if they support this, China will retaliate in some way politically. They are scared. This current cause is too controversial for them and they will not back it.”

But despite the reluctance of Slovak government politicians to support the nomination, rights groups believe that support in both countries for the nomination and the historical significance of the Charter 77 movement will bring a new focus to the issue of human rights in China.

The groups say that while the backing of Havel for Liu’s nomination will gain it worldwide attention because of his status as a human rights campaigner, the nomination from the Czech and Slovak republics is significant because Liu’s human rights manifesto is based on Charter 77.

“Havel is very important to this campaign. He is the godfather of the Charter 77 declaration which was so important to the anti-communist movement in Czechoslovakia, while he is also a big international figure. The link to Charter 77 is why this nomination for Liu has been made. These things are important to the nomination’s chance of success,” Nic said.

Nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize can be made only by certain groups or individuals, including national assemblies and governments of states, and are sent to the Norwegian Nobel Committee. In March every year the committee draws up a short list from nominations and then following a review process the Nobel Peace Prize winner is selected and announced in October.

The Pen international group which works to advocate freedom around the world has also nominated Liu for the prize.

In a nomination letter co-signed by well-known authors, including Salman Rushdie, the group said: “Honouring (Liu) with the Nobel Peace Prize would be a powerful way to underscore the fact that the rights that are enshrined in international human rights law – values that China has acknowledged and endorsed – are the non-negotiable entitlements of every man and woman.”

China has already opposed an award for Liu. China’s foreign ministry told local media this week that it would be “totally wrong.”

But activists say an award for Liu would prompt reflection in Beijing in the long term and a change of attitude towards rights and freedom.

“This nomination, and if Liu is given the Nobel Peace Prize, is absolutely critical to human rights in China,” Nic said. “Of course in the short term Beijing will be furious if he gets it. But in the long term, it could help China to open up. It could promote Internet freedom and freedom of thought in China.

“China is at a crossroads at the moment over the Internet, its relationship with the West and its path in the 21st century. The case of this dissident is also that crossroads.”

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