Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas, Liu Xiaobo, Oswaldo Payá and the power of small moral actions

"It's up to all of us to try, and those that say that individuals are not capable of changing anything are only looking for excuses." - Vaclav Havel, Interview with Amnesty International in 2011

Oswaldo Payá and Liu Xiaobo and the power of moral actions
Five years ago on Christmas morning in Beijing the nonviolent dissident, scholar and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the crime of speaking. He had already been jailed for more than a year for being one of the authors of Charter 08 that sought to gather signatures in a petition calling on the Chinese regime to gradually shift toward democracy.
The speech he delivered at his trial on December 23, 2009 is one that remains extremely relevant today and more so on Christmas. In a key passage of his final statement Liu Xiaobo said the following:
But I still want to say to this regime, which is depriving me of my freedom, that I stand by the convictions I expressed in my "June Second Hunger Strike Declaration" twenty years ago ‑ I have no enemies and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested, and interrogated me, none of the prosecutors who indicted me, and none of the judges who judged me are my enemies. Although there is no way I can accept your monitoring, arrests, indictments, and verdicts, I respect your professions and your integrity, including those of the two prosecutors, Zhang Rongge and Pan Xueqing, who are now bringing charges against me on behalf of the prosecution. During interrogation on December 3, I could sense your respect and your good faith.
Hatred can rot away at a person's intelligence and conscience. Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society's tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation's progress toward freedom and democracy. That is why I hope to be able to transcend my personal experiences as I look upon our nation's development and social change, to counter the regime's hostility with utmost goodwill, and to dispel hatred with love.
 This decision to bust up hatred with love combined with the firmness and courage at the same time to reject and defy the injustices committed is not only a core principle of nonviolence but also of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus commands us to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us. When one says the Lord's prayer how many understand and internalize that "If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions." Liu Xiaobo in the statement above is doing just that.

In a Christmas Message delivered by the Christian Liberation Movement in 1990 and written by Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas although 19 years earlier and separated by great distance and different cultures the same message is found:
Let us not turn to violence and force, but we will not submit or allow ourselves to be intimidated by them. Yes, we want change, changes in all of society, because the heart of Cuba has already changed, and we have renovated it in hope, work, suffering and sorrow. We have renovated ourselves and do not want Cuba to sink and our children with her. That violence not explode, that repression not explode, that the truth break out, and let there be an outbreak of Peace and Freedom.
No one in Cuba wants to submit to a foreign power, or return to other forms of injustice. Let us not fool ourselves any more, Cubans know what we want: we want reconciliation among all, we want a reunion with our distant brothers in exile, we want to work for our Country and our families, with boundless generosity to our hard work and positive creativity, we want dialogue, we want to solve this juncture of our history together, with love, we want freedom. We know it is possible and we will achieve it, it will be everyone’s victory.
Oswaldo Payá was murdered by the Cuban regime's state security agents on July 22, 2014 but he lived the above creed until the end, and the movement, he helped to found, continues to embrace these nonviolent principled. On December 28, 2014  Liu Xiaobo will be observing his 59th birthday and his sixth behind bars in a Chinese prison. He is a prisoner of conscience imprisoned in 2008 for his participation in the drafting of Charter 08. His wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest since 2010 when her husband won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Norway was threatened by Communist China not to award the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo but courageously went ahead and did so. Relations between the two countries have not been the same since then. In addition the Chinese regime initiated its own "Peace Prize" in 2010 to counter Nobel's and Fidel Castro is the 2014 winner.  Human rights activists in 2014 organized a Christmas card writing campaign in solidarity with imprisoned Chinese  dissidents to mark the five years that have passed since the trial of Liu Xiaobo where he was found "guilty" of "incitement to subvert state power." 

Imagine for a moment that Norway with a population of five million shook up Communist China with a population of over 1.3 billion and the largest economy on the planet with a simple moral and courageous stand by recognizing one Chinese human rights defender who nonviolently advocates for a peaceful transition in China. This demonstrates how small moral actions can have huge consequences, and why sending Christmas cards to imprisoned dissidents is of such great importance.

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