Remembering Political Prisoners

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Five years ago, on December 25, 2009, Liu Xiaobo, China’s most prominent dissident, was sentenced to 11 years in prison on subversion charges. Perhaps Chinese authorities hoped it would go unnoticed while the West enjoyed the Christmas holidays. In any case, they were apoplectic when Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the following year. Receiving the news from his wife, Liu wept and dedicated it to the victims of the Communist Party’s June 4, 1989, massacre of the Tiananmen democracy movement protesters.

Since then, news of Liu has been hard to come by. Two weeks ago, however, a message surfaced, apparently sent by Liu from his prison in Jinzhou, in the northeastern province of Liaoning. “I am OK,” it says. “Here in prison, I have continually been able to read and think. In my studies, I have become even more convinced I have no personal enemies. The aura around me is shiny enough already. I hope the world could pay more attention to other victims who are not well known, or not known at all!”

The message can’t be authenticated, but the self-deprecation and modesty ring true. “Vintage Liu Xiaobo,” says Perry Link, editor of a collection of Liu’s essays, No Enemies, No Hatred. Indeed, the message echoes the tone of a 2004 essay in which Liu made light of the prison time he’d served up to that point, “less than six years,” during which he was “deathly bored … but that’s about it.” Instead, he worried that “we scarcely hear the voices of the people who paid the heaviest prices.”

- This piece may be read in its entirety at World Affairs Journal

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