Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has said, “freedom of expression is essential in all countries.” Except in China, apparently. There have been many acts of censorship, intimidation and propaganda since the 8 October announcement that jailed dissident intellectual Liu Xiaobo is the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. According to the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, at least 40 human rights activists and journalists have been held or questioned for trying to celebrate Liu’s award.
In one of the latest developments, 1984BBS, a chat forum used by many journalists, has been closed under pressure from the police.
Reporters Without Borders urges the Chinese government to release all of Liu supporters who are being held just for expressing their joy about the award. It is regrettable that the authorities are stepping up harassment of writers and journalists, including members of Independent Chinese PEN Centre, the writers’ association of which Liu was for many years the president. Reporters Without Borders also calls for the restrictions on the freedom of movement of Liu's wife to be lifted.
The government’s credibility will be badly damaged if it denies the Chinese people access to any information about Liu’s Nobel Peace Prize except its own hostile reactions. Why do the Communist Party’s leaders not let Chinese citizens judge the award’s historic significance for themselves?
Chinese media coverage of Liu’s Nobel is still limited to Beijing’s angry reaction. The national television service and most newspapers, even the most liberal ones, are saying nothing. Newsrooms received a clear order from the Propaganda Department on 8 October: “It is forbidden to relay information” about the award (不能跨范围转载).
Some Chinese foreign-language media including the English-language version of the nationalist newspaper Global Times and the French and English versions of People’s Daily reported the government’s reaction. Youth Daily ran a story headlined: “Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo named – an insult to the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Foreign TV stations continue to be jammed whenever they carry a report referring to Liu. Online censorship is still intense. Some bloggers, such as the writer Han Han, have protested by posting empty messages to symbolise the impossibility of referring to Liu.
An open letter has meanwhile been released by 23 retired Communist Party officials and intellectuals urging the country’s highest authorities to carry out political reforms and to respect the guarantees of free speech and media freedom in article 35 of the Chinese constitution. The appeal has been systematically removed from the Chinese blogs and websites where it had been posted.
The Open letter from Party elders calls for free speech: http://cmp.hku.hk/2010/10/13/8035/
Wave of arrests
The arrests began on the evening of 8 October. Supporters of Liu have been arrested in Beijing, Shanghai, Jinan and even in the southwestern province of Sichuan. Initial eight-day detention orders were issued for three of them – Wang Lihong, Wu Gan and Zhao Changqing.
A former journalist who served a jail sentence, Liu Jingsheng, said police had been posted outside his home. Liu Xiaobo supporters without Beijing residence permits have been sent back to their province of origin. Gao Jian, for example, was sent back to Shanxi, where the local authorities are now interrogating him.
Three students attending the People’s University (Renmin Daxue) in Beijing were arrested after unfurling banners supporting Liu in Tiananmen Square at 6 p.m. on 8 October. There has so far been no word about what has happened to them since their arrest.
Wei Qiang, a 21-year-old student from Shaanxi who is attending Beijing’s Central School of Fine Arts (Zhongyang Meishu Xueyuan), was interrogated at a Beijing police station after trying to disseminate information about Liu’s Nobel within the school.
Dozens of university academics, students and lawyers have also been placed under house arrest. From time to time, Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, manages to post messages on Twitter. But the Beijing police have forbidden her to leave her home.
Liu Xia was able to tell her husband on 10 October that he has been awarded the Nobel. Although he had already been told by prison guards, he burst into tears and said he dedicated it to the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Since then, the conditions in which he is being held have improved. Liu Xia said he now has better food and has been allowed a small stove so that he can cook in his cell, which he shares with five other inmates.