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China Releases Dissident After Cancer Diagnosis -- WSJ

27 Jun 2017 6:32 am

Liu Xiaobo served more than seven years of an 11-year sentence for subversion
By Josh Chin and Te-Ping Chen 

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the US print edition of The Wall Street Journal (June 27, 2017).

BEIJING -- Chinese Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo was released from prison on medical parole, more than seven years into a sentence that drew wide Western condemnation but that ultimately has had few negative consequences for China.

Mr. Liu, who is 61 years old, was determined to be in the final stages of liver cancer on May 23 and was receiving treatment at a hospital in the northeastern city of Shenyang, said his lawyer, Mo Shaoping, citing a conversation with Mr. Liu's family members.

The Liaoning Prison Administration Bureau confirmed that Mr. Liu had been released in a statement posted late Monday. It said eight noted cancer experts had been assigned to treat him.

A poet and literature professor, Mr. Liu was detained in late 2008 shortly after he led the drafting of a pro-democracy manifesto that spread widely in Chinese intellectual circles. He was declared guilty on Christmas Day the following year and sentenced to 11 years imprisonment. Writers including Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood lobbied for his release.

In 2010, Mr. Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, a move that deeply angered China, which described Mr. Liu as a "criminal." Mr. Liu's wife, Liu Xia, has since been under house arrest.

In a smartphone video posted to the WeChat instant messaging app by a family friend on Monday, Ms. Liu appears distraught over news of her husband's illness. "He can't undergo surgery, or do chemotherapy or radiation therapy," she says in tears.

Those in the human-rights community who hoped global condemnation would pressure China into softening its treatment of political dissidents have been disappointed.

"The world community has largely forgotten Liu Xiaobo," said Jerome Cohen, director of the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at New York University. He said Mr. Liu's fate was a sad reminder of longstanding oppression in China.

In the years since Mr. Liu was arrested, Beijing has seen its international clout grow. Chinese investment has poured into Africa, across Asia and elsewhere and Beijing has become more assertive about wielding that economic influence to further strategic interests. Criticism of its imprisonment of Mr. Liu and other dissidents has grown fainter.

"China has paid a very small price for imprisoning Liu Xiaobo," said Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London. "It's a reflection of the rise of China. We see most countries don't want to pick a fight with the Chinese," he said.

Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a China-backed resolution affirming Beijing's long-held position that held up development as promoting human rights. A plan by the European Union to condemn China's human-rights record at the U.N. body was blocked by Greece, a destination for heavy Chinese investment.

In the U.S., the Trump administration has focused its dealings with China on trade and enlisting China's help in reining in North Korea's nuclear program rather than human rights.

Neither the U.S. nor the European Union signed a joint letter from 11 embassies in March criticizing Beijing over allegations that it was using torture to extract confessions from detained activists and human-rights lawyers.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr. Liu's release or criticism the U.S. could do more to press China on human rights. In the past the State Department has said it routinely raises human rights in meetings with Chinese officials.

Mr. Liu was the first Chinese citizen to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, although the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan religious leader, received the prize in 1989. The Nobel committee recognized Mr. Liu, who was represented at the award ceremony in the Norwegian capital of Oslo by an empty chair symbolizing his imprisonment, for his "long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China."

China denounced the government of Norway and curtailed imports of Norwegian salmon, even though the Nobel committee is independent of any government. Relations between Beijing and Oslo only recently thawed after Norway made several concessions. Those included Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg's decision not to meet with the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing considers a dangerous separatist, when he visited the country in 2014.

Norway's Foreign Ministry didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr. Liu's release. An official at the Norwegian Nobel Institute said the committee that awards the Nobel Peace Prize hadn't issued any comment about Mr. Liu.

International human-rights groups reacted sharply to the news of Mr. Liu's release.

"Liu Xiaobo should never have been jailed in the first place," said Sophie Richardson, Asia director for Human Rights Watch. That he was released with late-stage cancer "shows all the pathologies of human rights in China today," she said.

Patrick Poon, a China researcher for Amnesty International, called on Chinese authorities to ensure Mr. Liu received adequate medical care and access to his family.

Some of Mr. Liu's relatives had been to see him 10 days ago and described his situation as "relatively stable," according to Mr. Mo. The lawyer declined to elaborate and said Mr. Liu's relatives wouldn't comment.

A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry said at a regular press briefing on Monday that he wasn't aware of Mr. Liu's situation.

Mr. Liu participated in the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations on Tiananmen Square, and wrote extensively about them after China's military was called in to crush them. "The day seems more and more distant and yet for me it remains a needle inside my body," he wrote in a poem years later.

The manifesto Mr. Liu helped write, "Charter 08," called for a broad set of changes in China, including a new constitution, to bring about a more democratic system, though it stopped short of calling for the overthrow of the Communist Party.

Since coming to power in 2012, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has moved aggressively to quash dissent, with a crackdown on hundreds of activists and human-rights lawyers.

"Things have become even worse under Xi," said Mr. Cohen of New York University.

Chinese authorities say they have treated the detained lawyers and activists in accordance with the law.

--David Gauthier-Villars in Stockholm contributed to this article.

Write to Josh Chin at josh.chin@wsj.com and Te-Ping Chen at te-ping.chen@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 27, 2017 02:32 ET (06:32 GMT)

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