Christopher Gregory/The New York Times
更新時間 2013年6月9日, 格林尼治標準時間04:27
Mr Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, who was allowed to attend the sentencing to 11 years in prison of her younger brother Liu Hui, appeared in no doubt that what officials called a fraud case was politically motivated. "This is simply persecution”, she told reporters through the window of her car as she was driven away from the courthouse (see this account by the Guardian). "I do not know [if] perhaps this country has gone mad, or do they hate us so much?” she said. Liu Hui was convicted of defrauding a man of 3m yuan ($490,000) in a property deal. Mr Liu is appealing against the verdict. His lawyer, Mo Shaoping, told the BBC that it was merely a dispute over a commission and should not have been handled by a criminal court (the BBC’s interview with Mr Mo is here, in Chinese).
The sentence is the same as that being served by Liu Xiaobo, who was convicted of subversion in December 2009. He had organised a petition for greater political freedom, called Charter 08, which was signed by thousands of people including many prominent intellectuals. In 2010 he won the Nobel peace prize. Liu Xia, his wife, has good reason to believe that the authorities are making the family suffer for this. Even though she has been accused of no offence, she has been under strict house arrest since her husband got the award. Her appearance at the courthouse was a rare outing.
The plight of Liu Xiaobo and his wife has often been raised by American officials in their talks with Chinese counterparts. Tom Donilon, Mr Obama’s national security advisor, told reporters after the meetings between Messrs Obama and Xi on June 7th and 8th at a California estate that human rights had been discussed by the two leaders “at some length”. But there has been no sign of any relaxation by the authorities in their treatment of the Liu family. The Associated Press (AP), an American news agency, secured an unauthorised meeting with Liu Xia in December. Some Chinese activists later also managed to penetrate her security cordon. The AP said the arrest of Liu Hui in January might have been in retaliation for these events.
But if China intended Liu Hui’s sentencing as a sign that it will not give ground on issues relating to Liu Xiaobo, it also sent signals in the buildup to the California summit that it could make some concessions in the handling of smaller, or at least less politically sensitive fry. A few days before the summit the authorities allowed Hu Zhicheng, an American businessman, to return to America after being barred from leaving China for five years. He spent nearly one and a half years of that time in jail, on charges of commercial theft that were eventually dropped. In another conciliatory gesture the police gave passports to the mother and older brother of Chen Guangcheng, a blind dissident who escaped to the American embassy in Beijing early last year and (in an unusual victory for human-rights diplomacy) was allowed to leave for America. Earlier their applications for passports had been denied.
Although Mr Liu and his relatives are suffering, the picture for other dissidents who signed Charter 08 has been mixed. The police questioned many of them but refrained from sweeping arrests. Some remain outspoken. On June 9th a newspaper in Shanghai published an article (here, in Chinese) by a Charter 08 signatory, Liu Junning, a political scientist. Mankind should cast aside despotism and dictatorship, he wrote, and find a new political model that would allow humanity to survive. “This political model has already been discovered, and it is being successfully carried out in more and more places”, said the article. “It is democracy.” That a Chinese newspaper should venture to publish such views is a sign that on the human-rights front, all is not lost.
Correction: An earlier version of this article understated the size of the fraudulent property deal for which Liu Hui was convicted. The correct figure is 3m yuan, or about $490,000.
(Picture credit: AFP)