A prisoner of conscience died this week in the hands of a regime that has no conscience. Liu Xiaobo was sixty-one.
He passed away Thursday in the Chinese city of Shenyang. The city’s Bureau of Justice said the cause was “multiple organ failure.”
Liu was, by all accounts, China’s most well-known dissident. He was jailed various times and at the time of his death was serving an eleven-year sentence, imposed on Christmas Day 2009, for subversion. Liu had vigorously promoted Charter 08, a bold call for democracy and rule of law in China.
He was, in addition to being a dissident, a literary critic and scholar. He helped saved lives during the night of June 3, 1989, by encouraging demonstrators to leave Tiananmen Square and not confront troops determined to clear the heart of the Chinese capital.
Liu received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2010. The last Nobel Peace laureate to die in custody was Carl von Ossietzky, who passed away in 1938. He was held by the Third Reich.
The fact that Liu was in custody is an affront to our values, but it is the circumstances of his death that shock us.
Chinese authorities announced late last month that Liu had liver cancer. In the words of the New York Times, the disclosure was made “only after the illness was virtually beyond treatment.”
Liu was granted medical parole in June—but in name only. He was still kept under tight guard. And it was apparent that he had been, despite official claims, denied necessary medical treatment. As his wife Liu Xia said in a recent video describing his failing condition, “Can’t operate, can’t do radiotherapy, can’t do chemotherapy,”
The Chinese government did allow two foreign doctors, German Markus Buchler and American Joseph Herman, to examine Liu on Saturday. It became apparent, however, that Beijing did so not to help the dying patient.
The Chinese videotaped the exam and took clips that made local doctors look good. The excerpts were then released, according to the German embassy in Beijing, “selectively to certain Chinese state media outlets.”
The embassy, which arranged the exam, says the videos were “made against the expressed wishes of the German side, which were communicated in writing” prior to the examination.
The two foreign physicians determined Liu could travel abroad for medical treatment. Chinese doctors disagreed, and he was kept in China. “It seems that security organs are steering the process, not medical experts,” the German embassy said.
There has been no official Chinese response to the German statement.
The treatment of Liu is a warning. In the past, Beijing would release dissidents close to death and even allow them to travel abroad. Xi Jinping, the current Chinese ruler, is trying to return the Communist Party to its Maoist roots, which means, among other things, that he demands absolute obedience to his line and heartlessly condemns those with whom he disagrees. Consequently, in China today there is less tolerance for political speech than there was in the late 1980s, when Liu returned to China from the United States.
And there is less mercy than in North Korea. Last month, Pyongyang released Otto Warmbier, then serving a fifteen-year sentence, days before he passed away. China, by contrast, did not have the decency to let go of Liu in his final hours.
One final note. On the day Liu died, President Trump, in his press conference with Emmanuel Macron in Paris, spoke in lofty terms about how Americans and French fought side by side in “the fight for freedom.” The American leader then disgraced himself by publicly praising Xi Jinping, calling him, among other things, “a very good man” and someone who “wants to do what’s right for China.”
It is indeed a sad day for China—and for America as well.
Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China. Follow him on Twitter @GordonGChang.
Image: A protester holds an image of jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo outside the Chinese Embassy in Oslo, Norway December 9, 2010. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo