Friday, December 30, 2011

Cuban prisoners of conscience and the revolving door

Amidst the news that the Castro regime is pardoning 2,991 inmates, of which 7 have been identified as political prisoners, another bit of news has gone relatively unnoticed. Long term prisoners of conscience continue to suffer and endure in the dictatorship's prison complex and new prisoners are being added. It is a revolving door.

Rafael Ibarra Roque, imprisoned since June 17, 1994

However, one that has been unjustly in prison since June 17, 1994 and remain there today is Rafael Ibarra Roque. He was arrested on that day and accused of sabotage without any evidence and on June 17, 1995 was condemned to 20 years in prison.

A man of conscience who became disaffected with the Cuban regime following his military service in Ethiopia where he served as a radio communications specialist. It is not difficult to imagine that the well documented atrocities committed their by Cuban troops in collaboration with their Ethiopian ally, and today convicted war criminal, Mengistu Haile Mariam would shock the conscience of a good man.

Rafael Ibarra Roque with his daughters Gladys and Rosalia

Returning to Cuba he ended his links to the military and the regime working on his own as a truck driver who also worked odd jobs as a handy man. In 1981, he married Maritza Lugo and would have two daughters with her: Gladys and Rosalia Ibarra.

In 1986, his brother, Agustín Ibarra, and three other men tried to leave the country on a raft and were captured by State Security agents with both the plans and materials to build a home made raft. Rafael was also detained and held in the “La Cabaña” prison for six months without charges and was later released.

It was there that he came into contact with Cuban political prisoners and became aware of the gross and systematic injustices taking place in Cuba. Outside of prison he began to associate with former political prisoners and to learn about the real history of Cuba.

In 1991 Rafael Ibarra Roque co-founded the Frank País November 30 Democratic Movement, and in 1992, was elected president of the group. The organization is nonviolent and rejects violent resistance. Onilda A. Jimenez in an essay she wrote about Rafael Ibarra Roque titled "The Forgotten" described what happened next:
"His new position as head of the Party placed him under the scrutiny of the authorities, who quickly found a pretext for jailing him. They accused him of sabotage, which they were never able to prove, and of which he declared his innocence. Nonetheless, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1994. Apparently the sentencing of an innocent person is but a game or something similar to counting sheep before going to sleep."
In addition to the injustice of having their father imprisoned unjustly, Gladys y Rosalia Ibarra were targeted for harassment by Cuban state security. Maritza Lugo was also imprisoned for her human rights activism and would serve a total of five years in prison. The girls had both parents in prison at these times. It was because of this harassment that it was decided that Maritza and girls would go into exile and arrived there on January 11, 2002.

Rafael Ibarra Roque would continue to suffer torture both physical and psychological. At one point he was thrown into solitary confinement for having a copy of information from a United Nations special rapporteur. Despite the International Red Cross being barred from visiting Cuban prisons reports emerge of the torture taking place inside of them.

Gladys Ibarra Lugo, holding a photograph of: Rafael Ibarra Roque And Maritza Lugo Fernandez (Her Parents)

On October 21, 2010 having served 14 years of a 20 year prison sentence Rafael was offered his freedom conditioned upon going into exile which he refused and denounced as blackmail. He now has five years remaining of an unjust prison sentence. It is also important to remember that the 16 prisoners of conscience currently out of prison in Cuba from the group of the 75 who refused exile can also be returned to prison at any time to serve out their sentences.

New Cuban prisoner of conscience Ivonne Malleza

Finally, it is important to recall that new prisoners of conscience have been imprisoned and placed into maximum security confinement in the past days in Cuba.
Ivonne Malleza was arrested at Fraternity Park in Havana on November 30 for having held a nonviolent protest.

She was missing for ten days.

It was only on December 10 that she was allowed a phone call to inform family and friends of her whereabouts. She was held at the Alternative Center for Processing Detainees (Centro Alternativo de Procesamiento de Detenidos) along with her husband Ignacio Martínez Montejo, who was also arrested at the demonstration. Now she has been transferred to Manto Negro, a maximum security prison. Both Ivonne Malleza Galano and Isabel Hayde Alvarez Mosqueda are facing 5 years in prison.

Below is the video of the November 30, 2011 protest in Cuba:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Chinese dissident sentenced to 10 years in prison for writings

The court ignored all the points raised by the defense lawyer at the trial, so what point is there in appealing? - Zhang Qunxuan, wife of Chen Xi

Chen Xi

Amnesty International had warned that Chen Xi, detained on November 29, 2011 could be placed on trial at any time in a December 22 report. Below is the report by Human Rights in China on the trial and sentencing of Chen Xi.

Veteran Guizhou Activist Chen Xi Sentenced to Ten Years

On the morning of December 26, the Guiyang Municipal Intermediate People’s Court of Guizhou Province sentenced veteran dissident and human rights activist Chen Xi (陈西), to ten years prison and three years’ deprivation of political right for “inciting subversion of state power.” This heavy sentence follows the nine-year term imposed on Sichuan dissident Chen Wei (陈卫) three days ago. Chen Xi insists on his innocence but will not appeal.

Chen Xi’s wife, Zhang Qunxuan (张群选), told Human Rights in China, “The court hearing started at 9 a.m. and concluded by 12:30 p.m. The prosecution against Chen Xi was based upon his publication of 36 articles overseas. Chen Xi’s lawyers, Sun Guangquan (孙光全) and Bai Min (白敏), defended him on his not-guilty plea. In his self-defense in court, Chen Xi stated, ‘All the activities I have been engaged in are just and honorable, all in the open. Since I was released from prison on 2005, State Security has had communications with me on a weekly basis. They are aware of everything that I have been doing, and everything can be put on the table. So why had the law enforcement [authorities] not pointed out that I was committing a crime?’ When the presiding judge allowed Chen Xi to make his final statement, Chen Xi said, ‘I am a law-abiding person. I respect the court’s decision; I will not appeal.’”

Zhang added, “We made a final request to see Chen Xi, but the presiding judge denied the request. They are really heartless. The prosecution took his writings out of context. Actually, Chen Xi was calling for democracy and human rights. This wish was [his] whole crime!”

“The Chinese authorities’ ongoing tactic of imprisoning Chinese citizens will not address the deepening social conflicts in China. Instead, it will intensify them,” said Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China. “The march of heavy sentences imposed on democracy activists should be a wake-up call to the international community: China is at a critical crossroads and these activists need effective and immediate support.”

This is Chen Xi’s third prison sentence. During the period of the 1989 Democracy Movement, he was sentenced to three years for establishing the Patriotic and Democratic Federation. After his release, he continued to work for democracy and engage in human rights activities. He was sentenced to another ten years in March 1996 for organizing the Guizhou branch of the China Democracy Party, and pressing for redress for the 1989 crackdown. While in prison, he was beaten savagely and repeatedly by other prisoners reportedly instigated by the prison authorities.

After his release from prison in 2005, Chen Xi and other Guizhou activists established the First Guizhou Citizens International Human Rights Symposium that they subsequently convened on a yearly basis. On this foundation, they formed the Guizhou Human Rights Seminar, a weekly study and discussion session, to promote human rights. On the eve of International Human Rights Day this year, the local authorities banned the seminar as an illegal organization.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas in Cuba: Repression and Protests

Even on Christmas repression continues in Cuba

Ivonne Malleza and two other nonviolent activists transferred to maximum security prison.

Cuban communists ended Christmas in 1969 and was only returned to the Cuban people when Pope John Paul II negotiated for it in conversations surrounding his 1998 visit to Cuba. Despite the formal return of Christmas, repression still takes place over the holidays on the tropical island. State Security does not go on holiday.

On Christmas day 2011 three Ladies in White Leticia Ramos Herrería, age 42, Sayma Lamas, age 43, and Elizabeth Pacheco Lamas, age 20 were beaten up and detained by state security agents. State security agents punched and kicked the women and stopped them from attending Christmas Mass. Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas was attacked and detained on his way to Mass on Christmas morning along with ten other dissidents by the political police who blocked their path with police cars and beat them up and detained them. Fariñas was released hours later at 7:30pm on Christmas day bruised and sore from the attack.

The visit of Pope Benedict XVI in the spring of 2012 presents opportunities for both the Church and the Cuban people to make important gains in both spiritual and material freedom. The visit of Pope John Paul II in 1998 saw the return of Christmas and during his visit a breath of freedom shook the island. Lists of political prisoners were presented to the Cuban government by the visiting Pontiff and several were released following his trip.

The news of the release of nearly 3,000 prisoners on December 23 as a humanitarian gesture ahead of the Pope's visit has so far meant the release of only 5 political prisoners. Although the lists are incomplete, the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation says that there are at least 66 identified political prisoners. Others place the number at 150. Either way these are partial estimates. No one knows, outside of the dictatorship itself, the total number of political prisoners. In the first 11 months of 2011 there have been over 3,500 documented arrests for political reasons.

In Mayabeque on December 24 activists march demanding the freedom of three imprisoned nonviolent activists

Meanwhile, Cubans are growing increasingly frustrated with the injustices visited upon them and their loved ones and they are losing their fear and taking to the streets in protest despite harsh repression. Cuban women such as Sara Marta Fonseca have been brutally beaten and detained for denouncing the mistreatment of others. Three non-violent Cuban activists: Ivonne Malleza Galano, Isabel Hayde Alvarez Mosqueda, and Ignacio Martínez Montero, Ivonne's husband were all sent to maximum security prisons at the same time that the dictatorship has announced the parole of over 2900 prisoners. Ivonne and Isabel were sent to Manto Negro prison. Amnesty International had expressed concern over Ivonne Malleza because she had been detained and held incomunicado for ten days.

In the neighborhood of Párraga in Havana activists take to the streets in protest on December 23.

Ivonne Malleza was arrested at Fraternity Park in Havana on November 30. It was only on December 10 that she was allowed a phone call to inform family and friends of her whereabouts. She was held at the Alternative Center for Processing Detainees (Centro Alternativo de Procesamiento de Detenidos) along with her husband Ignacio Martínez Montejo, who was also arrested at the demonstration. Now she has been transferred to Manto Negro, a maximum security prison. Both Ivonne Malleza Galano and Isabel Hayde Alvarez Mosqueda are facing 5 years in prison.

Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo's birthday behind bars

Liu Xiaobo turns 56 years old on December 28, 2011 in a Chinese prison. Also on December 26, 2011 Chen Xi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his writings criticizing the communist party and on December 23 Chen Wei was condemned to 9 years for the same reason.

Liv Ullman read Liu Xiaobo's acceptance speech on December 10, 2010

Excerpts from the Acceptance Speech:

I Have No Enemies: My Final Statement

by Liu Xiaobo

Twenty years have passed, but the ghosts of June Fourth have not yet been laid to rest. Upon release from Qincheng Prison in 1991, I, who had been led onto the path of political dissent by the psychological chains of June Fourth, lost the right to speak publicly in my own country and could only speak through the foreign media. Because of this, I was subjected to year‑round monitoring, kept under residential surveillance (May 1995 to January 1996) and sent to Reeducation‑Through‑Labor (October 1996 to October 1999). And now I have been once again shoved into the dock by the enemy mentality of the regime.

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.


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.


I hope that I will be the last victim of China's endless literary inquisitions and that from now on no one will be incriminated because of speech.

Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth. To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity, and suppress truth.

In order to exercise the right to freedom of speech conferred by the Constitution, one should fulfill the social responsibility of a Chinese citizen. There is nothing criminal in anything I have done. [But] if charges are brought against me because of this, I have no complaints.

Thank you, everyone.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Vaclav Havel on Dubcek and Obama: Moral Actions and Minor Compromises

Cuban author and intellectual Carlos Alberto Montaner described Vaclav Havel as the man who loved freedom and that is true but he also loved moral actions and justice. Havel recognized that “Man is not an omnipotent master of the universe, allowed to do with impunity whatever he thinks, or whatever suits him at the moment. The world we live in is made of an immensely complex and mysterious tissue about which we know very little and which we must treat with utmost humility.” It is that humility which Havel underlines that explains his belief that moral actions no matter how small do matter.

Dubcek and Havel in 1989

In 1968, after Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring, an effort by Czechoslovak communist reformers to build socialism with a human face, Havel wrote the following to the Czechoslovak President Alexander Dubcek who had been one of the reformers later purged: "Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance."

Havel believed that moral actions, no matter how small or futile they may appear at the time can have profound consequences for both freedom and a just society. It is because the world is not a puzzle to be solved but incredibly much more complex that decisions of right and wrong made by each person have such great importance.

Havel and Obama

Over 40 years later, when President Barack Obama backed out of meeting with the Dalai Lama due to an upcoming trip to China, Havel offered the corollary to the theorem expounded to Dubcek in 1968 at the October 12, 2009 of the Forum 2000 conference he had organized:
I believe that when the new Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize postpones receiving the Dalai Lama until after he has accomplished his visit to China, he makes a small compromise, a compromise which actually has some logic to it. However, there arises a question as to whether those large, serious compromises do not have their origin and roots in precisely these tiny and very often more or less logical compromises.
The New York Times in their October 13, 2009 issue in an article titled Vaclav Havel, Still a Man of Morals and Mischief: reported that in an interview that was supposed to be about the revolutions that overturned communism 20 years earlier that President Havel raised the question asking if it was true that President Obama had refused to meet the Dalai Lama? Havel replied:
“It is only a minor compromise,” Mr. Havel said of the nonreception of the Tibetan leader. “But exactly with these minor compromises start the big and dangerous ones, the real problems. “This is actually the first time I really do mind something Obama did,” Mr. Havel said. He minded it “much more” than Mr. Obama’s recent decision not to station elements of a missile-defense system in the Czech Republic, a move that several Central European politicians criticized but that Mr. Havel noted was ultimately “an internal American decision.”

In other words immoral actions no matter how small or "pragmatic" they appear at the time can also have profound consequences that can lead to an end of freedom and the rise of profound injustices.

Among the world leaders saddened by Havel's passing was Barack Obama who said that his words will echo through the ages. I hope that President Obama and others will remember the words directed at him in October of 2009.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Miracle: The End of the Soviet Union

Christmas returns to the Kremlin

Twenty years ago today on December 25, 1991 a regime born in 1917 and formerly named in 1922 came to an end. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or as it was also known the Soviet Union was formerly brought to an end on Christmas day and replaced by the Commonwealth of Independent States. The last day of the Soviet Union was on Christmas day. Let that sink in for a moment.

Now there are those who claim that the world is a less stable place without the Soviet Union, and Mikhail Gorbachev claims that it could have been reformed. Academic Stephen F. Cohen goes further and quotes approvingly both by Putin and Mikhail Khodorkovsky with the adage: "Anyone who does not regret the breakup of the Soviet Union has no heart. And anyone who thinks it can be reconstructed has no head." Vaclav Havel, a man who had both head and heart understood why this kind of regime was so profoundly inhuman: "As soon as man began considering himself the source of the highest meaning in the world and the measure of everything, the world began to lose its human dimension, and man began to lose control of it."

The optimism expressed by Gorbachev and the nostalgia of Cohen fails to take into account the human cost of the USSR. The Soviet Union took the lives of an estimated 61 million human beings. It was a brutal and evil system that spawned other brutal regimes around the globe that claimed over a 100 million lives. Their lives mattered. Vaclav Havel in his 1990 New Years Speech called on his countrymen not to forget:
"The rivers of blood that have flowed in Hungary, Poland, Germany and recently in such a horrific manner in Romania, as well as the sea of blood shed by the nations of the Soviet Union, must not be forgotten. First of all because all human suffering concerns every other human being. But more than this, they must also not be forgotten because it is these great sacrifices that form the tragic background of today's freedom or the gradual emancipation of the nations of the Soviet Bloc, and thus the background of our own newfound freedom."
The numbers of lives lost is but the material accounting and does not take into account the spiritual ruin visited upon billions and its aftermath to the present day. The late Czech president explained it in the very same address:
"The worst thing is that we live in a contaminated moral environment. We fell morally ill because we became used to saying something different from what we thought. We learned not to believe in anything, to ignore one another, to care only about ourselves. Concepts such as love, friendship, compassion, humility or forgiveness lost their depth and dimension, and for many of us they represented only psychological peculiarities, or they resembled gone-astray greetings from ancient times, a little ridiculous in the era of computers and spaceships."
The destruction both material and spiritual generated by the Soviet Union over seventy years will take centuries to repair and transcend. That hard truth may not be cause for celebration but the end of the system that wreaked so much damage is cause for celebration not regret. To do otherwise is to be heartless. The fact that it happened without violence on Christmas day in 1991 is also cause for joy.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Cuban Resistance Calls on a Moment of Prayer for December 24th, Christmas Eve

Join in a moment of prayer at 8pm on Christmas Eve for a Free Cuba

Taken from Pedazos de la Isla:

The Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front and other dissident organizations have called on all Cubans in and out of the island to participate in a moment of prayer at 8 PM tonight, December 24th, Christmas Eve or “Nochebuena” as Cubans and other Hispanics refer to the day. According to the dissidents themselves, the prayers are for a free Cuba, and a better future where there are no political prisoners and excessive aggressions and divisions amongst the Cuban people. Among the many activists who have participated in this calling are Antunez, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, Luis Felipe Rojas, Caridad Caballero Batista, Idania Yanez Contreras, Raul Risco Perez, Berta Soler, Angel Moya and Librado Linares.

Every 24th of the month is the Day of the Resistance, where dissidents of diverse provinces and pro-democracy organizations participate in peaceful actions against the Castro tyranny and in demand of human rights for ALL Cubans. This date is usually marked by public protests, marches, or the handing out of pro-freedom pamphlets, but this time activists have opted for a moment of prayer, also because of the significance of the religious date.

Below is the audio of numerous opposition activists sharing their wishes for a future Cuba, as well as their reasons for calling on a moment of prayer. The audio is Spanish, there is no translation yet, but among the wishes are the freedom of all political prisoners, freedom for the activists Ivonne Malleza, Ignacio Martinez and Isabel Haydee (detained for 3 weeks now for saying the Cuban people are hungry), the end of family divisions, the end of the dictatorship, and many other thoughts of goodwill. There are hundreds of dissidents participating in this call, and only some appear here in this video:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Raul Castro's bait and switch

"Raul Castro authorizes exits from small jails but still does not announce exits from the big jail." - Yoani Sanchez, on Raul Castro's announcement tonight

Expectations that the long hated travel restrictions placed on Cubans by the dictatorship would be lifted were heightened today. Deutsche Press-Agentur reported that "Rumours were rife Friday that Cuban President Raul Castro might lift travel restrictions and allow people to go in and out of the country more freely." Reuters reported that Cuba was "abuzz with speculation that President Raul Castro will soon announce policy changes making it easier for Cubans to travel abroad from their communist island." AFP journalist and photographer Alex Ogle tweeted at 7:30am EST today: "Keep eye out today for Cuba to lift a 50-year travel ban for its citizens > expected announcement will be historic."

Raul Castro poured cold water on the expected announcement reported the Associated Press claiming that Cubans exercising their right to enter an exit their homeland could effect the stability of the regime: “Some have been pressuring us to take the step … as if we were talking about something insignificant, and not the destiny of the revolution.” Over the years the rumors that the travel restrictions placed on Cubans by the dictatorship would be lifted has circulated. Rumors that Cuban regime is about to lift travel restrictions are as reliable as the rumors that Fidel Castro has died.

Instead the big announcement is that over 2,900 prisoners are to be released. International news agencies almost immediately report that Cuban officials have announced that Alan Gross is not among the 2900 to be released. According to Elsa Morejon, Raul Castro announced that 2988 prisoners are to be released. 13 of them are women. 88 are foreigners from 25 countries. Former prisoner of conscience Angel Moya tweeted that nothing would be resolved with the release of the prisoners because Cuba wants freedom. The online publication Convivencia (Coexistence) tweeted that they were gladdened that nearly 3,000 prisoners would be released to mark 4OO years of the Virgin of Charity in Cuba and the Pope's visit to the island next year.

Yoani Sanchez placed the releases in the larger context of migration reform in a tweet: "Raul Castro authorizes exits from small jails but still does not announce exits from the big jail."

Requiescat in pace, Vaclav Havel

"Truth and love must triumph over lies and hatred." - Vaclav Havel

State Funeral for Vaclav Havel at Prague's St. Vitus Cathedral

Today, a state funeral was held for Vaclav Havel at Prague's St. Vitus Cathedral and attended by world leaders, artists, dissidents, friends and family. The Archbishop of Prague Dominik Duka, who led the funeral mass had also spent time in jail with Vaclav Havel during the Communist era. This was followed by a private ceremony in Prague's crematorium with family and friends.

The funeral ended with the Czechoslovak national anthem and Havel´s voice from a recording said his famous motto: "Truth and love must triumph over lies and hatred."

Thousands of candles placed in tribute to Havel in Prague's Wenceslas Square

Havel, is no longer with us, in the physical sense but his words and legacy live on and will continue. David Remnick in the New Yorker on December 18, 2011 offered a reading list titled: Havel and Beyond where he cites the "top ten" hits and cites Letters to Olga and Open Letters: Selected Writings, 1965-1990 as Havel's most important works of non-fiction. In Open Letters Remnick highlights the importance of the essays “Dear Dr. Husak,” “The Power of the Powerless,” and “Anatomy of a Reticence.”

However, of equally great importance are Havel's books Disturbing the Peace: A Conversation with Karl Huizdala published in 1986 while still a dissident in Czechoslovakia, Summer Meditations published in 1993 following the "Velvet Divorce" when the country split nonviolently into the Czech and Slovak republics. Havel would later become the first president of the Czech Republic in January of 1993. Finally, To the Castle and Back published in 2008 offers a look back over the years of the Havel presidency.

The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities in addition to highlighting the importance of Havel's The Power of the Powerless essay also cited his important 1990 New Years Address explaining that "[t]his was not a President speaking in platitudes. Havel of course criticized the communists. But his critique was universal, aimed at our entire civilization:"
When I talk about contaminated moral atmosphere … I am talking about all of us. We had all become used to the totalitarian system and accepted it as an unchangeable fact and thus helped to perpetuate it. In other words, we are all — though naturally to differing extremes — responsible for the operation of the totalitarian machinery; none of us is just its victim: we are all also its co-creators.
Many of Vaclav Havel's essays are available online at his official website both in the original Czech and in English.

Requiescat in pace, Vaclav Havel

Chinese Dissident Chen Wei condemned to 9 years in prison for his writings

"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." - Elie Wiesel

Chen Wei: 9 years in prison for his writings

Two years ago today it was Liu Xiaobo sentenced to 11 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” and today it is Chen Wei condemned to 9 years under the same charge. On March 25, 2011 Liu Xianbin was sentenced to 10 years in prison under the same charge. Today, the BBC reported that Chen Wei told the court he was not guilty and "that democracy will prevail."

All of these activists and many more are being imprisoned for exercising their freedom of expression and are prisoners of conscience. In addition, Chinese dissident Mao Hengfeng has suffered brutal beatings and torture for her human rights activism.

China: Harsh sentence for activist Chen Wei condemned

by Amnesty International

The nine-year jail sentence handed down to activist Chen Wei for writing critical articles about the Communist Party is unacceptable, Amnesty International said today, and urged Chinese authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally.

Chen Wei was sentenced for “inciting subversion of state power”. His lawyer, Zheng Jianwei, said the trial lasted less than two hours and added that his family said he would not appeal.

“Chen Wei is being punished for peacefully expressing his ideas,” said Catherine Baber, Deputy Asia-Pacific Director for Amnesty International.

“I wish we could say we were surprised by this sentence, but we have seen the Chinese government use this vague charge of “incitement” over and over to silence its critics and suppress discussion of human rights and political change,” she added.

According to the indictment, seen by Amnesty International, Chen Wei’s charge stems from essays he allegedly posted online and “sent to overseas organizations,” including New York-based human rights group, Human Rights in China.

“This is the toughest sentence given to anyone who was arrested and charged during the so-called Jasmine crackdown, when the government rounded up activists out of fear for potential demonstrations inspired by the Middle East and North Africa,” Catherine Baber said.

“We think the government is punishing Chen Wei for his many years of activism and trying to send a strong message to any would-be critics.”

Chen Wei, 42, was one of more than 130 activists detained after the U.S.-based news site, Boxun, reported an anonymous appeal for people to stage protests across China last February.

The online call to protest, inspired by the uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa and the “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia, led to one of the harshest crackdowns on dissent in China in recent years.

Government critics, bloggers, artists, “netizens” and other activists were detained, the vast majority of whom have been released without charges or on bail.

Authorities in Suining City, Sichuan Province, detained Chen Wei on 20 February and formally arrested him on 28 March. Since then, he has been held at the Suining City Detention Centre. His case was sent back twice to prosecutors because of a lack of evidence.

Zheng Jianwei said he was only able to meet with his client twice. Another lawyer reportedly met with Chen Wei once. The activist has only been allowed to communicate with his family in writing.

Chen Wei served as one of the leaders of the 1989 student democracy movement, for which he was imprisoned until January 1991. In May 1992, authorities arrested him again, this time for commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and for organizing a political party. They sentenced him to five years for “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement.”

Chinese law does not define the meaning of “subversion,” nor does the law or related regulations or interpretations adequately define what it means to incite others to subvert state power.

Amnesty International is calling on the Chinese government to release other activists who have been held on the vague charge of "inciting subversion of state power," including:

  • "Netizen" Liang Haiyi, reportedly taken away by police on 19 February in the northern city of Harbin for sharing videos and information about the "Jasmine Revolution" on the Internet. Liang Haiyi, perhaps the first person to be arrested as part of the Jasmine crackdown, is reportedly being held on suspicion of "inciting subversion" and could be tried at any time.
  • Veteran activist Chen Youcai, also known as Chen Xi, who was detained 29 November for being a member of the Guizhou Human Rights Forum, which authorities declared was an illegal organization. Chen Xi could stand trial at any time and, like Chen Wei, could face a harsh sentence due to his long work as a rights advocate.
  • Human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, who was sent back to prison last week after “violating” his probation, according to reports in China’s state media. Authorities charged him with “inciting subversion” in December 2006 and sentenced him to a three–year suspended prison sentence. He was initially held under house arrest and then subjected to enforced disappearance repeatedly over nearly three years.
  • Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo, who was awarded the prize in absentia on 10 December 2010. Liu Xiaobo was sentenced in 2009 to 11 years in prison for his role in drafting Charter 08, and other writings which called for democratic reforms. His wife, artist Liu Xia, is under illegal house arrest. She has not been charged with any crime and Amnesty International has called for authorities to immediately restore her freedom.
  • Sichuan-based activist Liu Xianbin, who was sentenced in March to 10 years in prison for his role in promoting democratic reform, including his support of the Charter 08 petition movement.
  • Beijing-based activist Hu Jia, who was released from prison in June after serving three and a half years for "inciting subversion" but now lives in conditions equivalent to house arrest along with his wife, Zeng Jinyan, and young daughter.

Vaclav Havel's constant solidarity on behalf of China's Liu Xiaobo

"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
2 years ago today the trial against Liu Xiaobo began

On the day that the world bid farewell to Vaclav Havel an e-mail arrived from the Human Rights Foundation that said: "Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo: In a Chinese Prison but Not Forgotten." It was two years ago today, December 23, 2009 that the trial against the human rights defender on charges of "inciting subversion of state power" began and ended on Christmas day when the Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court issued a guilty verdict and 11-year prison sentence. There was widespread international condemnation of the trial and verdict. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay issued a statement of concern that the decision "represents a serious setback for the protection and promotion of human rights in China," and described the sentence as "extremely harsh."

Liu Xiaobo was convicted of "inciting subversion of state power" but it is important to highlight what this Orwellian phrase seeks to obfuscate that the Chinese dissident was imprisoned for his role in drafting and circulating an open letter requesting reforms. A group of 303 Chinese writers, intellectuals, lawyers, journalists, retired Party officials, workers, peasants, and businessmen issued this open letter - "Charter 08" - on December 9, 2008 calling for legal reforms, democracy and protection of human rights in China. This is the reason Liu Xiaobo was placed on trial and condemned to 11 years in prison.

Czech Expresident Havel Delivers Protest Regarding Liu Xiaobo Imprisonment to Chinese Embassy

Many remain silent about the human rights situation in China because of its economic might and claim that nothing can be done, but Vaclav Havel never held that view. In fact, he protested Western silence. Just days following the trial verdict on January 7, 2010, Vaclav Havel walked over to the Chinese Embassy in Prague and rang the doorbell on three occasions before posting his protest letter through the outdoor embassy mail slot. The former Czech president turned to reporters present and explained what he was doing:
“We are here now because we are asking the Chinese president and Chinese government not to repeat what happened to us 33 years ago ,where fighters for freedom were pursued and persecuted.”
On January 19, 2010 Havel met with the Executive Director of Human Rights in China, Sharon Hom, and engaged her in a dialogue/interview about Liu Xiaobo, Charter 08 and the struggle for democratic reform in China. When asked about the similarities between China today and Czechloslovakia in 1977 explained that:
The similarities, I would say, are in the basic structure of human rights reflected in a democratic system, which of course the regime doesn’t want. The regime wishes for the dictatorship of one party. I think this is where Charter 08 and Charter 77 are similar: they have similar targets and similar messages to deliver to the [respective] regimes.

On February 3, 2010 both Czech and Slovak members of parliament nominated Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize. The nomination was also endorsed by Vaclav Havel and many of the former spokespersons of Charter 77. The 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate, Herta Müller, in a letter to the Nobel Foundation on behalf of Liu Xiaobo wrote:

I have urgent request to make to you today. As you know, Vaclav Havel nominated the Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize 2010.[...]I, too, believe that Liu Xiaobo deserves the Nobel Peace Prize because in the face of countless threats from the Chinese regime and great risk to his life, he has fought unerringly for the freedom of the individual.
Despite warnings and threats against Norway and the Nobel Committee by the Chinese government Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Desmond Tutu and Vaclav Havel on December 5, 2010 called on the Chinese government to release Liu Xiaobo in order that he be able to accept the Nobel Peace Prize or risk losing its international credibility. The Chinese regime not only refused to release Liu Xiaobo but his wife, Liu Xia, was held under house arrest and was unable to represent her husband in Oslo to receive the award. Instead Liv Ullman read the statement Liu Xiaobo gave at his trial on December 23, 2009 titled I Have No Enemies: My Final Statement. Before being sentenced to 11 years in prison on December 25, 2009 addressing the court in the previous mentioned statement he concluded:

I hope that I will be the last victim of China's endless literary inquisitions and that from now on no one will be incriminated because of speech.

Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth. To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity, and suppress truth.

In order to exercise the right to freedom of speech conferred by the Constitution, one should fulfill the social responsibility of a Chinese citizen. There is nothing criminal in anything I have done. [But] if charges are brought against me because of this, I have no complaints.

On December 8, 2011 Vaclav Havel signed on as one of the members of a new International Committee to Support Liu Xiaobo. Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize placed a spotlight on China's human rights violations. Hopefully his courageous example and Vaclav Havel's solidarity will shame those who remain silent before this ongoing injustice.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Občan Havel - Citizen Havel + English Subtitles

The documentary runs a little a little over two hours and offers a behind the scenes look at Vaclav Havel as president of the Czech Republic. Prague Radio offered a review of the documentary Citizen Havel on their website in 2008. An excerpt outlines the substance of this important work:
"For more than a decade, from autumn 1992, when Václav Havel was deciding whether to run for the post of Czech president, to January 2003, when he left Prague Castle for the last time, director Pavel Koutecký followed the president everywhere he went. He shot hours and hours of footage, footage that reveals everything from picking his way through Machiavellian post-election negotiations to giving restaurant tips to the Rolling Stones."

Amnesty International: Vaclav Havel an amazing human rights leader

Amnesty International's Steve Crawshaw pays tribute to the great human rights leader Vaclav Havel.
"The world has lost an amazing human rights leader. Vaclav Havel embodied the spirit of thousands of brave human rights defenders, who challenge oppression and the denial of human dignity. He did so by combining humor and a steadfast determination to fight for fundamental rights no matter the cost to his personal well-being. The pressure he brought on his government while a prisoner of conscience and the spotlight he shone on repression helped bring human rights to millions of people. When he later led the government, he worked diligently to ensure that the rights of freedom of expression and opinion were respected and protected and that the people he governed would not, again, be imprisoned for exercising their basic human rights. We thank Havel, once again, for his courage and leadership as we bid him farewell."
More from Steve Crawshaw in The Independent:Havel was a giant for Eastern Europe who must be remembered

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

From the rooftop to the open balcony: Porno para Ricardo, U2 and The Beatles

Today, El Nuevo Herald reported that the Cuban punk rock band, Porno para Ricardo, had initiated a protest. Now watching a video posted by the band of the events that led to the news story a different narrative appears.

Porno para Ricardo is a punk rock band that has been censored and prohibited from playing in public. It appears that drawing inspiration from The Beatles who on January 30, 1969 held their last public performance on the rooftop of their building at Apple Records. It was unannounced and ended with the London police shutting them down because the concert had left to traffic stoppages because drivers and pedestrians stopped commuting to watch the concert. The Beatles strategically and secretly placed recording cameras to document the entire affair.

It appears that Porno para Ricardo did the same thing. The only difference being that it was done on an open balcony and not the roof top. The lead singer of the band, Gorki Aguila announces into the camera because they were not allowed to play concerts in public on International Human Rights Day (December 10) that they were going to play at their studio "La Paja Recold." Their are cameras outside on the ground and on the balcony itself recording the happening.

Porno para Ricardo are not the first to steal this stunt from the Beatles, the Irish rock band U2 on two occasions ripped off The Beatles with two rooftop performances. The first, like The Beatles unannounced, was on March 27, 1987 on the roof of of the Republic Liquor Store on the corner of 7th and Main Street in Los Angeles and involved the police. The second was on February 27, 2009 on top of the BBC Broadcasting House in London.

The difference between the roof top live concerts by The Beatles/U2 and Porno para Ricardo is that in Cuba the police didn't even bother to show up and tell the band to stop the public disruption. In communist Cuba the state security agents just shut off electricity to the entire building.

U2 has spoken out on behalf of Oscar Elias Biscet, something Gorki Aguila did first, and called out for a free Cuba. Wonder if they'd be welcomed to play a concert in Cuba today?

Porno para Ricardo should feel in good company because when The Beatles were conquering the world with their music in the 1960s they and their music were forbidden in Cuba. The Castro dictatorship banned their music and also banned The Beatles from ever playing on the island. Decades later, after John Lennon had been assassinated, they erected a statue of him.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Václav Havel's speech in Miami to the Cuban people

In 2004 Havel would exchange letters with Oswaldo Paya on the nature of nonviolent struggle and what was taking place in Cuba. Months prior to his passing he would send a letter of solidarity to Oscar Elias Biscet upon his release from prison. However, it was on September 23, 2002 that he addressed the Cuban people at Florida International University from the capital of the Cuban exile: Miami. Below is the full text of his address.

AP / Petr David Josek. Former Czech President Vaclav Havel

Learning to Speak Their Own Language:
Václav Havel

Mr. President, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, and to all those citizens of Cuba who are listening to us:

I am here in Florida for the first time in my life, and Florida is also the last state in the United States - and the last place on the whole American continent - that I will be visiting as President of my country. It was my own choice to come to Florida, and I have chosen it, among other things, because it is from here that I want to extend my greetings to all Cubans - both to those who live here, and to those who live at home, in Cuba.

Every modern, freedom-loving person feels, or at least ought to feel, a sense of solidarity both with those who are prevented from living in their home country or from freely visiting it, and with those who are forced to live in their country in a state of constant fear, and who cannot leave it and return to it of their own free will.

Václav Havel speaks about the Cuban regime in 2007

But there are people who should naturally feel this kind of solidarity far more intensively than others. I am referring to those of us who experienced first hand, on our own skins, as it were, the oppressive weight of life under a totalitarian system of the communist type, or who may even have tried to resist that system and, in doing so, experienced just how important the solidarity and help offered by people from freer countries was.

I think that one of the most diabolical instruments for subjugating some people and fooling others is the special Communist language. It is a language full of subterfuge, ideological jargon, meaningless phrases and stereotypical figures of speech. To people who have not seen through its mendacity or who have never had to live in a world manipulated by it, this language can appear very attractive. At the same time, in others, this very same language can evoke fear and horror and force them into permanent state of dissimulation.

In my country, too, entire generations of people once let themselves be led astray by this kind of language with its fine words about justice, peace and the necessity of fighting against those who, allegedly in the interests of evil foreign powers, resisted the power that spoke this language. The great advantage of this language lies in the fact that all its parts are firmly bound together in a closed system of dogmas that excludes anything that does not fit.

Any idea with a hint of originality or independence - as well as any word that is not part of the official vocabulary - is labeled an ideological diversion - almost, it would seem, before anyone can express it. The web of dogmas deployed to justify any arbitrary action by the ruling power, therefore, usually takes a utopian form - that is, an artificial construct that contains a whole set of reasons why everything that does not fit the structure or that reaches beyond it must be suppressed, forbidden or destroyed for the sake of some happy future.

The easy thing to do is to accept this language, to believe in it or, at least, to adapt to it. It is very difficult to maintain one’s own point of view, though common sense may tell you a hundred times over that you are right, as long as that means either revolting against the language of the powers-that-be, or simply refusing to use it.

A system of persecutions, of bans, of informers, of compulsory elections, of spying on one’s neighbors, of censorship and, ultimately, of concentration camps is hidden behind a veil of beautiful words that have utterly no shame in calling enslavement a “higher form of freedom,” of calling independent thinking a way of “supporting imperialism,” or labeling the entrepreneurial spirit a way of “impoverishing one’s fellow humans” and calling human rights a “bourgeois fiction.”

My country’s experience was simple: when the internal crisis of the totalitarian system grows so deep that it becomes clear to everyone, and when an more and more people learn to speak their own language and reject the hollow, mendacious language of the powers that be, it means that freedom is remarkably close, if not directly within reach. All of a sudden, it seems that the king is naked and the mysterious radiant energy that comes from free speech and free actions turns out to be more powerful than the strongest army, police force, or party organization, stronger than the greatest power of a centrally directed and centrally devastated economy, or of the centrally controlled and centrally enslaved media, those chief propagators of the mendacious language of the official utopia.

Our world, as a whole, is not in the best of shape and the direction it is headed in may well be quite ambivalent. But this does not mean that we are permitted to give up on free and cultivated thinking and to replace it with a set of utopian clichés. That would not make the world a better place, it would only make it worse. On the contrary, it means that we must do more for our own freedom, and that of others.

May all Cubans live in freedom and enjoy independence and prosperity! To all those who have not lost the will to resist arbitrary force and lies, may your dreams be fulfilled! And may Oswaldo Payá Sardinas, the great champion of human rights in Cuba, be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and may this award strengthen the courage of all the Cuban people to take up non-violent resistance against an oppressive regime!

Florida International University,
Miami, Florida, September 23, 2002

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cuban dissidents on the passing of Vaclav Havel

Over twitter on Sunday Cuban dissidents expressed their condolences, prayers and mourning for Vaclav Havel. At the same time many recognized the solidarity he had demonstrated on their behalf over the years. The English translation is on top and the original Spanish in bold just below.
Guillermo Fariñas Hernández

Independent Journalist and Sakharov prize winner Guillermo Fariñas Hernández tweeted:

An icon of Democracy and liberty has died. God bless the memory of Vaclav Havel.
Murio un icono de la Democracia y la Libertad. Dios bendiga la memoria de Vaclav Havel.

Pedro Argüelles Morán

Former prisoner of conscience of the group of the 75 Pedro Argüelles Morán tweeted

Havel is an example for those engaged in civic and pro-democratic struggle. God take him to his bosom.
Havel es todo un ejemplo para los luchadores civilistas y pro~democraticos. Dios lo acoja en su seno.

Argüelles Morán further tweeted:

Vaclav Havel is gone physically, because spiritually, he will always be present among those engaged in the civic struggle for fundamental rights and freedoms.
Havel ha desaparecido fisicamente,porque espiritualmente,siempre estara presente entre los luchadores civilista a favor de los derechos y libertades fundamentales.

Yoani Sanchez

Cuban blogger and philologist Yoani Sanchez tweeted that

Vaclav Havel’s book "The power of the powerless" helped me find my voice, to recognize myself as a civic being. Thank you teacher!
"El poder de los sin poder" libro de Vaclav Havel que me ayudo a encontrar mi voz, a reconocerme como ente civico. Gracias maestro!

She also tweeted that

Vaclav Havel had passed away and we barely started to walk the path he walked dozens of years ago :-(
Vaclav Havel y nosotros apenas hemos comenzado a transitar por un camino que el emprendio hace varias decadas :-(

Oswaldo Payá and Vaclav Havel

Leader of the Christian Liberation Movement and Sakharov prize winner Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas tweeted today that

Havel, precursor and guide to liberation in this new era. God receive you, friend in solidarity with the cause of democracy in Cuba.
Havel, un precursor y guía de la liberación en esta nueva era. Dios te reciba, amigo solidario con la causa de la democracia en Cuba.

Oswaldo further tweeted:

Personally I lose an inspiring friend, from whom I received a great education. Always grateful to Havel for the reception he gave me.
Personalmente pierdo un amigo ,un inspirador, del cual recibi una gran enseñanza. Siempre agradeceré a Havel la acogida que me dio.

Dagoberto Valdes

Dagoberto Valdes of Coexistence Magazine tweeted:

Havel has died. The world has won a symbol of the "power of the powerless." Coexistence Magazine offers its condolences and prayers.
Havel ha muerto.El mundo gana un simbolo del "poder de los sin poder". La revista Convivencia ofrece sus condolencias y oraciones.

Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia

Former prisoner of conscience of the group of the 75, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia tweeted

The death of former Czech Vaclav Havel, a friend of Cuba has caused deep sorrow. A great man has died.
Profundo dolor nos ha causado la noticia del fallecimiento del expresidente Checo Vaclav Havel, gran amigo de Cuba. Ha muerto un gran hombre.

Vaclav Havel: A great and good man

I really do inhabit a system in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government, where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions. - Vaclav Havel, Speech of October 1989, accepting a peace prize

Official photo of mourning taken from Vaclav Havel's official website.

Václav Havel, passed away this morning at the age of 75. Czechs, world leaders, dissidents and friends of freedom worldwide mourn his loss and are shaken by it. He was the steadfast friend who did not bend to political opportunism and held other world leaders accountable when they abandoned principle. One of his last public statements was an expression of solidarity on behalf of political prisoners in Belarus.

Lord Acton in a letter to
Bishop Mandell Creighton dated April 5, 1887 stated: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority." It is precisely because of men like Václav Havel that Acton must insert the world "almost."

How many presidents would begin a New Year's Address address with the following sentiment: "
I do not think you put me into this office so that I, of all people, should also lie to you," and then proceed to speak the hard truths confronting the nation? Václav Havel did on January 1, 1990:
I assume you did not propose me for this office so that I, too, would lie to you.

Our country is not flourishing. The enormous creative and spiritual potential of our nations is not being used sensibly. Entire branches of industry are producing goods that are of no interest to anyone, while we are lacking the things we need. A state which calls itself a workers' state humiliates and exploits workers. Our obsolete economy is wasting the little energy we have available. A country that once could be proud of the educational level of its citizens spends so little on education that it ranks today as seventy-second in the world. We have polluted the soil, rivers and forests bequeathed to us by our ancestors, and we have today the most contaminated environment in Europe. Adults in our country die earlier than in most other European countries.

Living in truth as both a dissident and later as a head of state while defending and embracing human rights no matter how remote the chances for success are the reasons why many are celebrating the life of Václav Havel.

In August of 1969 in a letter to the recently overthrown Czechoslovak Communist Party chairman Alexander Dubček following the crushing of the Prague Spring by Soviet tanks he wrote: "Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance."

Like Gandhi, Havel believed that the means are everything and determine the ends. Both Gandhi and Havel are anti-Machiavellian. Havel was an admirer of Gandhi. On February 8, 1994 in New Delhi while accepting the Indira Gandhi prize Havel outlined his influence:
“I am one of Mahatma Gandhi's admirers, and, if I may be so bold, I believe that a reflection of his life's work might even be seen in the attempt my friends and I made, in Charter 77, to create a nonviolent opposition to the totalitarian regime in our country. This aspect of our activity later had a positive influence on the course of our anti-totalitarian revolution in 1989.”
Hopefully the outpouring of love and affection for Václav Havel will inspire other politicians to follow his example and join that small pantheon of great and good men who have also been statesmen.

Czechs mourning Havel

Václav Havel, not only played an important role in bringing about a nonviolent end to communism in Czechoslovakia, but continued his solidarity with dissidents in other countries for the remainder of his life. He had successful presidencies first in Czechoslovakia and later in the Czech republic. The politics of truth telling he promulgated transcended the struggle against communism and remain relevant today.

Every year at the Forum 2000 that he organized in which world leaders, philosophers and artists participated (where there was always a place for dissidents and recently exiled prisoners of conscience to take part) in a conversation on the pressing issues of the day and to seek solutions. Today on their website Forum 2000 issued the following statement regarding the passing of Václav Havel:
Today, December 18, 2011, Václav Havel, the founder of the Forum 2000 Foundation and former President of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, has passed away. President Havel was a lifelong fighter for freedom and human dignity and a deeply thoughtful person, troubled by the indifference of our civilization to its own future. The idea for the Forum 2000 Conference originated in 1997, when, together with the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel, and philanthropist Yohei Sasakawa, he invited world leaders to Prague to discuss the challenges humanity was facing on the threshold of a new millennium. Since then, Forum 2000 conferences continue to address topics ranging from the state of democracy and human rights to interfaith dialogue, environmental sustainability of the economic growth, the importance of the rule of law, or the role of media.

Václav Havel´s legacy will be the emphasis on the importance of freedom and democracy for a successful development of the society, insistence on the universality of human rights, or the indispensability of moral basis for all kinds of human endeavor. We will always remember Václav Havel for the courage and modesty with which he defended these principles.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Václav Havel

His Holiness the Dalai Lama tweeted about his old friend who had just passed: "The best tribute to honor and remember Václav Havel is to work as best we can towards building a more peaceful, open and just world."

Requiescat in pace Václav Havel, great defender and friend of freedom. A great and good man.

Please extend your condolences online for Václav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic.