Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Chinese Dissident Arrested for Free Speech to mark 60th Anniversary of the International Declaration of Human Rights

It's the 60th anniversary of the International Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights apparatchiks from around the world are gathering to commemorate the event, at conferences and galas to congratulate themselves and each other.

Imagine the diversity. Politically correct human rights empire builders from liberal democratic countries gladly bestowing credibility by association upon Orwellian human rights poseurs from tinpot dictatorships and theocracies.

Now let's be clear. The United Nations has little to crow about in the realm of human rights lately. It's had its Human Rights Council hi-jacked by some of the world's worst abusers (Libya, Cuba, and Syria all come to mind). It has played the hapless dhimmi to the Organization of the Islamic Congress and its transparent effort to make blasphemy against Islam a recognized limitation on free speech, with the intention of enforcing compliance even in non-Islamic countries. The U.N. must wear with embarrassment the shame arising from the first Durban Conference, which degenerated into little more than an organized anti-Semitic hate fest. Moreover, the U.N. has failed with jaw-dropping consistency to condemn (let alone level sanctions against) some of the most egregious human rights abuses of our time. And I mean the REAL human rights (like the right of free speech, the right to an education, and the right to be free from torture) not the counterfeit human rights of our time (like the right not to be offended and the "right" of special groups to be spared diligent scrutiny of their actions and beliefs). Well, that's some record for the United Nations. They should be so proud.

So on this auspicious day, the United Nations must really be proud of one of its permanent members of the Security Council. Yes, I'm talking about you, China.

After trying to refresh its tarnished image just in time for the Olympic games this year, China quickly resumes its old habits of suppressing any and all dissent with the heavy, steel-toed jackboot of the state.

The Washington Post reports today that the Chinese government has arrested Liu Xiaobo, one of the country's leading human rights activists. What was Liu's offence? He published an open letter and petition to the Chinese government, complete with the signatures of hundreds of the country's leading intellectuals, calling for "extensive political reform, including an end to one-party rule."

More than 300 Chinese citizens signed the petition, called Charter '08, which began circulating on the Internet on Tuesday morning. They represent a broad swath of Chinese society, including government officials, lawyers, journalists, dissidents, artists and rural leaders, and they come from every corner of the country.

The charter's authors pegged its release to Wednesday's 60th anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it takes aim at faults in China's authoritarian political system. It calls for change in 19 areas, including a new constitution, an independent judiciary, freedom of assembly, election of public officials and stronger guarantees for personal freedoms. The name Charter '08 borrows from the Charter 77 movement in Czechoslovakia in 1977, in which several hundred intellectuals published a daring challenge to Soviet rule.

"We stand today as the only country among the major nations that remains mired in authoritarian politics," the document reads. "Our political system continues to produce human rights disasters and social crises, thereby constricting China's own development but also limiting the progress of all of human civilization. This must change, truly it must. The democratization of Chinese politics can be put off no longer."

Liu, 53, has been jailed before. The former philosophy professor at Renmin University in Beijing and current director of the Independent Chinese PEN Center spent 20 months in jail for his support of the 1989 student protests at Tiananmen Square. In 1996, he was sent to a labor camp for three years for criticizing the Chinese Communist Party. Most recently, he was one of a number of Chinese citizens detained for several days in early July as part of a crackdown on political dissidents before the Beijing Olympics.

We'll be eagerly awaiting a response from the United Nations Human Rights Council ... (cue crickets).

P.S. If you're inclined to be marking the 60th anniversary of the International Declaration of Human Rights today, perhaps you could spare a moment to remember those in China, like Liu Xiaobo, who have the courage to stand up and struggle for what we take for granted.

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