09 October 2012

Breaking: "No News from Nobel Laureate Again This Month"

It's been two years since Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and, for much of that time, his wife, Liu Xia, has been confined to her apartment, constantly guarded by police under a form of extra-legal house arrest that has become too familiar in recent years.

Yesterday, Damian Grammaticas at the BBC asked me for my thoughts on this state of affairs for an online piece they were doing to mark the occasion. It's a very interesting report, with more detail than we've seen in a while on the current situations for both Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia thanks to an anonymous source close to the family, who confirms what many have long suspected -- that Liu Xia is being punished as a way of putting pressure on Liu Xiaobo (in this case, to go into exile).

Much of what I had to say was included in the BBC story, but I wanted to repost my comments in full here as well, mainly because my current preoccupations don't leave me much time to post anything new to this blog.
I am not aware of any legal authority for restricting Liu Xia's liberty and, indeed, I don't believe the Chinese authorities have attempted to justify her treatment with reference to the law. Her relegation to this ambiguous zone appears to be deliberate, because if you can't treat her treatment as something sanctioned or even covered by law, then how do you begin to challenge it? By denying that she is being held against her will by agents of the state, the authorities carry on the pretense that there is no factual basis upon which to hold them accountable. So, because the relevant authorities can act with such absolute impunity, Liu Xia effectively ceases to exist, both as a human being and as an issue.

And, for that matter, the same can almost be said of Liu Xiaobo, since one of the few ways the outside world has to learn anything about individuals who have been imprisoned in China is through what their relatives learn and observe during periodic prison visits. I don't know the last time that Liu Xia was able to visit her husband, but I am fairly certain that any interaction she has been able to have with him has been under the precondition that she remain silent. So, to the extent that this reflects an official strategy to counter Liu Xiaobo's influence, it would have to be deemed successful. At least as far as the international community is concerned, there's only so much interest that can be sustained by a person's continued absence. That's why you don't see too many headlines proclaiming "No News of Nobel Laureate Again This Month."
One thing I wanted to add at the time, but couldn't quite find the quotable words, is that this effort to render Liu Xiaobo completely irrelevant will ultimately fail, because Liu's value rests in his ideas and, no matter how hard they try, they cannot imprison those ideas, which can continue to have influence even while he remains behind bars.

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