12/07/2010, 00.00
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Liu Xiaobo symbolises Chinese efforts towards democracy

In a speech to Columbia University, Yang Jianli, the Chinese dissident who will represent the co-author of Charter 08 at the Nobel Prize ceremony, said that through Liu, what was “originally done by heroes into work that can be done by ordinary people”. Through his action, Liu shouted at the government that the people would not be silent. In the meantime, 19 nations announce that they would send representatives at the Oslo ceremony.

New York (AsiaNews) – Liu Xiaobo transformed the pro-democracy movement. If it was “originally done by heroes into work that can be done by ordinary people,” said Yang Jianli, a New York-based Chinese dissident. The “12 thousand people inside China [who○3 have signed off on Charter 08” are evidence of that, he explained during an address at New York City’s Columbia University. Yang Jianli is tasked with represent Liu Xiaobo at the Nobel Prize ceremony. Happy for the recognition but Liu’s “empty seat” will speak louder than words.

Whilst dissidents close to Liu’s movement continue to be arrested in China, the Norwegian Nobel Committee confirmed that 19 countries would not send representatives to the award ceremony on Friday. In addition to China, Russia, Cuba, Kazakhstan and Colombia, who had already announced their decision not to attend, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine and Morocco will not be represented. Here is Yang Jianli’s speech.

Thank you, Ann and Anna, for organizing this conference, and for giving me this chance to address you.  I feel honored and humbled standing here.

For the past several years, my friends at Visual Artists Guild, Pen and Reporters without Borders have supported Liu Xiaobo and his work and his cause and Charter 08, unfailingly.  Your valuable work represents the profound international community support for human rights in my country, China.  It keeps us sane in a situation which could easily be characterized as its opposite.

Around the world, buried in prison cells, in sunless living graves, there are rights activists whose sole ray of hope is a beacon of freedom they only know about from the dedicated people at these human rights organizations. 

The prisoners of conscience have not always been in chains. Let me remind you.  Liu Xiaobo worked as a visiting scholar here at Columbia University.  At Columbia University, he could freely voice his opinions.  

But today as I stand, here talking so calmly and openly with you, Liu Xiaobo sits in a jail in Liaoning in northeastern China, far from his wife and family. His crime . . . ?  Merely proposing that those very same freedoms which we enjoy here and have enjoyed for centuries apply in his home country as well.

Why . . . ? Why are these proposals a crime in China . . . ? 

After his sentencing last year, Liu Xiaobo said in a statement, “I have long been aware that when an independent intellectual stands up to an autocratic state, step one toward freedom is often a step into prison. Now I am taking that step; and true freedom is that much nearer.”

Now Liu Xiaobo is taking that first step. Now we are standing together to send a message to the world and more directly to the Chinese government:  If Liu Xiaobo is guilty, then we are all guilty; if Liu Xiaobo is subversive, then we are all subversives.   

In a few days, I will be in Oslo, bearing witness to another important moment in the history of China's democracy movement:  the Nobel Prize Committee will hold the ceremony to award 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo for «his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China."

This is a moment millions of Chinese have been waiting for.

I also have waited for this moment. But as I plan my Oslo journey, my joy is tinged with sorrow.  My mind is weighted with the solemn memories of friends who cannot travel with me.

Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia are not allowed to see the day themselves in Norway. There will be an empty seat when the spotlight moves to where the Nobel laureate should be. Speeches, like this, will be made by everyone except the most deserving one.

The Prize brings people joy, but it also brings more pressure for results. At this moment, Liu Xiaobo is still incarcerated and has lost all contact with the outside world, and Liu Xia has been "made missing" as well.  A few days ago, one internet commenter I saw joked about dreaming he had won the Nobel Peace Prize himself and that this scared him awake. Under such circumstances, the only thing I could say is that there is much left to be done and our mission is far from finished. Yet we have enough knowledge to make a judgment, namely, that we are on the correct road.  As long as we commit ourselves to our goal, we can achieve it. 

I am proud to tell you that despite CCP’s repression, the civil movement in China is making solid progress.

The best example is that, by now, 12 thousand people inside China have signed off on Charter 08.  And they have signed using their real names despite the possible consequences. Those signatures stand for themselves. They tell the CCP 12 thousand times over that we do not intend to be silent about our predicament. 

And every day we see still more people stand up against the government to defend their own rights. More and more people are making their true voice heard. All these changes are incremental but they are solid, they are sincere, they are powerful and they are leading to a paradigm shift in the future.

Yes, Liu Xiaobo is taking these steps, so are many other prisoners of conscience.

Each prisoner of conscience has a sad but still inspiring story to tell. Each of these stories is a China story. Each incorporates China’s past, present and future.  The long-term dedication and sacrifice made by Liu Xiaobo, as well as by all the prisoners of conscience, have lowered the risk for others to participate in the pro-democratic movement in China. Their courageous efforts are gradually turning the cause, which was originally done by heroes into work that can be done by ordinary people.  With our united efforts, I assure you this process will continue and it will continue until the day when the people of China will live free of fear and full of hope.  Thanks to generations of struggle of the Chinese people represented by Liu Xiaobo, thanks to your unwavering support from the international community, that day is much nearer.

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