Chris Rennard writes… Liu Xiaobo needs to know people in Britain are appalled

I have succeeded in tabling a topical question for the House of Lords tomorrow:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, and if so how, they will raise concerns about the imprisonment of the Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo during the Prime-Minister’s visit to China.

This follows me raising the issue on the World at One and in the Guardian because my view is that doing good business in not incompatible with publicly calling for respect for human rights and freedom of speech.

Liu Xiaobo needs to know that people in Britain are appalled that he was sent to 11 years imprisonment (in a one day trial on Christmas Day last year) for attempting to speak out in favour of freedom of speech. His wife has been kept under house arrest and his lawyer was prevented from leaving the country today on the basis that he was suspected of attempting to make his way to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize recently awarded to Liu Xiaobo.

The Chinese Government says that it wants friendly relations between our Governments and peoples. But if we want to be friendly with the people of China, we need to be able to let them know that we believe that their human rights should be respected.

The Government of China will not win real friends by attempting to bully people such as the Norwegians who decided to award Liu the Nobel Peace Prize. As the Chair of the Nobel Committee Thorbjoern Jagland said in the citation, China’s new status in the world “must entail increased responsibility. China is in breach of several international agreements to which it is a signatory, as well as of its own provisions concerning political rights. Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide ranging struggle for human rights in China.” The campaign to establish universal human rights in China is being waged by many Chinese, both in China itself and abroad.

We owe it to those peacefully working for human rights to support them publicly. We want the Chinese Government to understand that they would begin to win many friends by releasing Liu Xiaobo immediately and allowing him to receive his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.

Lord Rennard is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords

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  • Nick (not Clegg) 9th Nov '10 - 8:08pm


    How the government responds will be a test of the “liberal” credentials of the coalition

  • Toby Philpott 9th Nov '10 - 8:35pm

    He already knows Chris. His wife told him about the award on her visit to him that week and he already knows the reaction of the Beijing Government and its approach to other governments on the issue.

    Previous practice with Wei Jingsheng suggests that Liu Xiaobo will only be released if he is prepared to go into exile and Wei was only released on “health” grounds. Will David Cameron offer a face saving formula for the Beijing Government which would allow them to release Liu into his care and into exile in the UK?

    This is the only chance for Liu because frankly they have no intention at present of releasing him for the Nobel awards ceremony and are already allegedly misbehaving by pressuring diplomats from other countries with Embassies in Norway not to attend the ceremony in Oslo (which will probably spectacularly backfire). Ironically, the current Chinese Ambassador to the UK, Mr Liu Xiaoming was First Secretary at the Chinese Embassy in the United States at the time that discussions were going on about Wei Jingsheng going into exile. He might have had some role in that deal being organised.

    The biggest irony in all of this is that there are quite serious discussions going on inside the Chinese Communist Party regarding liberalisation and discussion of how to increase democracy. The most important relationship that David Cameron can build if he really is interested in eventually securing Liu’s release is that with Xi Jingping and probably Li Keqiang. These two are the most likely candidates to form the core of the next leadership and they are the guys most likely to make the decision to finally release Liu.

    Liu’s future is grim at the moment. Even if he manages OK in prison (a nice big IF), he is likely to spend a considerable number of years outside prison being watched and harassed and facing house arrest as his wife currently is. They need to be be got out of there (if they are willing to go).

    There is a deeper and more serious issue about the way Beijing conducts its diplomacy. It should not be lost on them the way that they have happily played the victim historically and claimed to have been bullied by other nations in the past to only seek to do precisely the same to countries such as Norway. They really do not understand that the Nobel Committee is independent of the Norwegian Government in the same way that they don’t fully understand that the BBC is independent of the UK Government (remember that the BBC news site was blocked for a longtime in China and my personal view is that they didn’t believe that the BBC was not operating on the same basis as Xinhua) . That is due to their world view and the way they do things in China.

    But ultimately, the most useful thing to remember in all of this is that the Chinese put a high price on face. A solution will not be found through confrontation but through giving Beijing a way out. THAT is the prize at stake here.

  • .
    As well as raising the issue of one individual with China, have you raised the issue of hundreds of individuals with our US allies?

    There are still prisoners being held in Guantanamo without trial.

    And then there are all the prisoners being held in Bagram.

    General Stone (USMC) reviewed prisoners’ files last year and declared that 400 of the 600 held in Bagram were innocent and should be released.

    No charge. No trial. No sentence. And no defined way out.

    REPRIEVE has taken up the case of six of those held, but they face an uphill struggle. Who will speak for the rest of them?

    “In Limbo In Bagram”

  • toryboysnevergrowup 10th Nov '10 - 9:57am

    Nick Clegg Jan 2008 – per BBC website

    But Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said Mr Brown should not “shy away” from raising the issue of human rights – particularly those in Darfur – with China, which has strong political and economic ties with Sudan.

    “China must both address its own human rights record and uphold the values of the United Nations,” he said.

    “It can no longer turn a blind eye to the grave human rights abuses continuing in countries like Sudan,” he said.

    Vince Cable 2010 – “We will not lecture China on human rights”

    Compare and contrast.

  • Chris Rennard 11th Nov '10 - 2:04pm

    This is the link to the question session in the Lords on this subject


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