PRAGUE – On Christmas Day last year, one of China’s best-known human rights activists, the writer and university professor Liu Xiaobo, was condemned to 11 years in prison. Liu is one of the main drafters of Charter 08, a petition inspired by Czechoslovakia’s Charter 77, calling on the Chinese government to adhere to its own laws and constitution, and demanding the open election of public officials, freedom of religion and expression, and the abolition of “subversion” laws.
For his bravery and clarity of thought about China’s future, Liu deserves the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. There are two reasons why we believe that Liu would be a worthy recipient of that prestigious award.
First and foremost, he stands in the tradition of Nobel Peace Prize laureates who have been recognized for their contribution to the struggle for human rights. Nobel laureates such as Martin Luther King, Lech Walesa, and Aung San Suu Kyi are but a few of the many examples that the Nobel Committee has recognized in previous years.
We are convinced that the concepts that Liu and his colleagues put down on paper in December 2008 are both universal and timeless. These ideals – respect for human rights and human dignity, and the responsibility of citizens to ensure that their governments respect those rights – represent humanity’s highest aspirations.
Should the Nobel Committee choose to recognize Liu’s courage and sacrifice in articulating these ideals, it would not only draw global attention to the injustice of Liu’s 11-year sentence. It would also help to amplify within China the universal and humanistic values for which Liu has spent so much of his life fighting.
The second reason why Liu deserves the Nobel Peace Prize resonates with Alfred Nobel’s original intent for the award. In working to promote human rights, political reform, and democratization in China, Liu has made a significant contribution to the values of peace and fraternity among nations that Nobel had in mind when he created the award more than a century ago.
Of course, democratization does not automatically guarantee better behavior on the world stage. But it does facilitate a full and rigorous public debate over key questions of a state’s foreign and domestic policies. This active and searching conversation, the hallmark of a democratic polity, is the best hope for better decisions by governments, both at home and abroad.
Liu’s committed advocacy on behalf of democracy in China is, above all, intended for the benefit of the Chinese people. But his courage and example may help to accelerate the dawn of the day when China’s participation in international affairs is aided by the expertise and oversight of civil-society groups, an independent media, and an engaged citizenry able to express its views through the ballot box.
It is primarily for these two reasons that we believe that Liu would be a worthy recipient of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. In conferring on Liu one of the world’s highest honors, the Committee would be signaling once again the importance of human rights and democracy on the one hand, and world peace and international solidarity on the other.
Liu’s harsh prison sentence was meant as an exemplary measure, a stern warning to all other Chinese who might want to follow his path. We are convinced that there are moments when exemplary civic engagement, such as Liu’s, requires an exemplary response. Awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize is precisely the response that his courage deserves.