Seven years ago on Christmas day in Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People's Court sentenced Liu Xiaobo, a prominent intellectual and long time activist, to eleven years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power." His "crime"? Organizing a petition drive in China calling for democratic reforms in 2008. 2016 marks the seventh anniversary of his unjust sentencing and the sixth anniversary of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China."
PEN America's case history on this courageous Chinese dissident reveals that he could have stayed in the United States where he was a visiting scholar in the United States in 1989 but returned to China after the start of the Tiananmen uprising:
"Liu Xiaobo is a renowned literary critic, writer, and political activist based in Beijing. He served as president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center from 2003 to 2007 and now serves as an honorary president. He was a professor at Beijing Normal University and was a visiting scholar at several universities outside of China, including the University of Oslo, the University of Hawaii, and Columbia University in New York City. In the spring of 1989, Liu Xiaobo left his post at Columbia University and returned to Beijing to play a crucial role in the spreading pro-democracy movement..."Unfortunately, the situation in China has not improved and international solidarity has receded over an economically and militarily ascendent China. Nevertheless in China activists took to the streets and risked their freedom to demand the release of Liu Xiaobo.
Cuba is a long way geographically from China but the trends in the island nation have also been in the wrong direction in terms of regime behavior and the international environment. However Cubans like the Chinese understand this and while many flee the country, some remain and risk everything for their homeland.
Last year was at the King Mango Strut with Cuban dissidents lampooning the Castro regime and the Obama administration. Among the revelers was Danilo Maldonado, also known as "El Sexto" an artist who desires to live in freedom, in Cuba. Under the Castro brothers that is not an easy feat and Danilo has already been declared an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience after a prolonged detention in December of 2014 for trying to carry out a performance art piece mocking the Castro brothers.
This Christmas finds him behind bars for tagging a wall with the phrase "Se fue" [he left] referring to the death of Fidel Castro on November 26, 2016. Beaten up and arrested Danilo has spent Christmas and New Years behind bars.
El Sexto is not alone, also arrested in the aftermath of Fidel Castro's death was Eduardo Cardet, the spokesperson of the Christian Liberation Movement. Cardet who is also a beloved medical doctor and family man respected in his community. While traveling abroad his wife was detained and warned that upon his return they would lock him up for 15 years in prison for having met the wrong people during his travels. Despite the threat Eduardo Cardet returned home to a brutal beating, incarceration and trumped up charges. He has also spent Christmas and New Years imprisoned and separated from his family.
Liu, Danilo and Eduardo could have easily stayed in the United States as political refugees, but made the courageous decision to return to their homeland and continue the struggle for freedom.
Today as we are about to celebrate the New Year and celebrated Christmas let us take a moment to reflect upon these three courageous men and their profound sacrifices for liberty