Tutu, Havel: Please free Liu Xiaobo

2010-10-22 14:10

Washington - Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Czech president Vaclav Havel joined forces on Friday in urging China to free jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and share in a "moment of pride".

Earlier this month, the Nobel Committee honoured Liu "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China", a decision that sparked a furious backlash from Beijing.

In an opinion article published by The Washington Post, Havel and Tutu said they nominated Liu for the Nobel Peace Prize "because of the universality of his call for fundamental freedoms for his people".

Last December, the 54-year-old Nobel laureate was sentenced to 11 years behind bars for subversion following the 2008 release of Charter 08, a manifesto for reform signed by more than 300 Chinese intellectuals, academics and writers.

Freedom Now

Havel, 74, a dissident playwright under Prague's communist regime which was toppled in 1989, co-authored a similar document, Charter 77, published 33 years ago.

"This need not be a moment of shame or insult for China," wrote Tutu and Havel, both honorary co-chairs of Freedom Now, a group representing Liu as his international legal counsel.

"This should be a moment of pride, celebrating the fact that one of China's own is recognized as the world's greatest contributor to that which all nations seek: peace."

Despite Beijing's initial angry reaction, which included placing the writer and political activist's wife Liu Xia under house arrest, the pair insisted that "this remains an opportunity for the Chinese government to turn the page on a century of victimization".

They urged China to show it was a "forward-looking nation", otherwise comparing it to the brutal military regime in Myanmar, which has locked away another Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, for most of the past two decades.

"The Chinese government can continue to fight a losing battle, against the forces of democracy and freedom that its own premier recently called 'irresistible'," Tutu and Havel said.

"Or it can stand on the side of justice, free Liu Xiaobo and immediately end the house arrest imposed on his wife."

Key moment for China

Amid China's emergence as a major global power, they said "this is a moment for China to open up once again, to give its people the ability to compete in the marketplace of ideas where they will surely prove just as extraordinary".

Tutu and Havel expressed confidence that Liu and others would eventually be free.

Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his non-violent struggle against apartheid in South Africa and has since led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in uncovering apartheid-era abuses.

Together with other communist-era dissidents, Havel denounced Liu's imprisonment in a letter he personally delivered to the Chinese embassy in Prague earlier this year.