Former Beijing university philosopher professor Liu Xiaobo refuses to give up on the idea that the Chinese media will one day be able to operate as a real fourth estate and stand up to the omnipotent Communist Party. So he tenaciously fights for the universal principle of press freedom, calls for the release of imprisoned journalists and dissidents, and publishes essays on the Internet or in Hong Kong and diaspora newspapers. All this at the risk of his own freedom.
Liu spent two years in prison after publicly defending the student-led democracy movement in June 1989. He was also sentenced to three years of reeducation through work in 1996 for questioning the role of the single party. In May of this year, the political police cut his Internet connection and his phone line after he wrote an essay criticising the use of the charge of "subversion" against journalists and dissidents. Now aged 49, he still lives in Beijing and the authorities systematically refuse to give him a passport despite repeated invitations from US universities. Liu is also the president of the Association of Independent Writers, the only one of its kind in China. Despite receiving threats, he organised a public meeting of pro-democracy intellectuals in Beijing in October 2004.
In an article written for Reporters Without Borders in March of this year, Liu said: "The electronic media within China and abroad are able to break through the Chinese Communist Party’s censorship (...) Even if the party decrees harsher and harsher laws against the Internet and the control technologies never stop improving, they will never be able to completely control or censor the Internet (...) In the game of ban and response to ban, the people’s space for expression increases millimetre by millimetre. The more the people advance, the more the authorities retreat. The time is not far when the frontier of censorship will be breached and the people will openly demand freedom of expression."
Pro-reform journalists and intellectuals in the sights of the authorities
The Chinese authorities, including the department of propaganda, have been implementing a wide-ranging policy of sanctions and harassment of pro-reform journalists and intellectuals for several months. The goal is clear: to control the press, limit the Internet’s influence and silence dissident political voices. Censorship, arrests, imprisonment, intimidation and dismissals - Wen Jiabao’s government is using every possible means.
Three writers, including Yu Jie and Liu Xiaobo, spent a night in custody on 13 December after being detained by the Beijing police. The authorities accused them of jeopardising the state’s security by writing and posting articles on the Internet, advised them to stop writing and warned that they were already in great danger. All of the data on Yu’s computer was copied, while Liu’s computer was confiscated. Both their homes were put under police surveillance.
The poet and journalist Shi Tao was arrested on 24 November. His family has been unable to visit him and does not know the real reasons for his detention.
Also in November, the department of propaganda barred Yu and five other political commentators (Jiao Guobiao, Li Rui, Wang Yi, Mao Yushi and Yao Lifa) from being published in the state-owned media. The term "public intellectuals," referring to intellectuals who publicly voice concern about the fate of the most underprivileged and defend social justice, is now banned in the state media.
Two journalists have been fired. Wang Guangze learned that he has been dismissed from the fortnightly Ershiyi Shiji Jingji Baodao (The 21st Century Business Herald) on 23 November, on his return from the United States where he took part in a seminar and gave a speech entitled, "Development and possible evolution in China’s political ecology in the Internet era." Xiao Weibin, the editor of the magazine Thong Zhou Gong Jin (Showing Solidarity in the Same Boat), was fired on 2 September for publishing an interview in which the former Communist Party boss of Guangzhou spoke in favour of political reforms and criticised the authorities for censoring the newspapers and Internet.
The fight against censorship and for free expression in the People’s Republic of China by intellectuals like Liu has never been such a burning issue. Ties, especially economic ties, are growing between France and China (Jacques Chirac’s visit to China in early October) and between the EU and China (the EU-China summit in The Hague on 8 December), so now more than ever is the time to put pressure on the Chinese government to stop the pressure against pro-reform journalists and intellectuals.