Today’s must-read: Vaclav Havel makes the case that China’s human rights activists need support. He refers specifically to the signatories of Charter 08, an appeal for democratic reform and human rights inspired by Czechoslovakia’s Charter 77 to which Havel was a contributor and signatory.
Charter 08 has now been signed by several thousand individuals, he notes, including China’s “top minds from law, political science, economics, the arts and culture.” But Beijing’s response has been as short-sighted and repressive as the communist regime in Prague:
Rather than respond to our offer of engagement with dialogue and debate, the Czechoslovak government instead chose repression. It arrested some of the signatories, interrogated and harassed others, and spread disinformation about our movement and its aims.
So too has the Chinese government declined the invitation to discuss with the signatories of Charter 08 the merits of their proposal. Instead, it has detained two signatories, Liu Xiaobo and Zhang Zuhua, both of whom the government has identified as lead actors in its creation. Mr. Zhang has been released, but Mr. Liu, a prominent writer and intellectual, is still being held incommunicado without charge.
Dozens of others have been interrogated, and an unknowable number are being watched by state security agents as they make phone calls and type email messages on behalf of their jailed comrades. Soon after Charter 77 was issued, I was arrested for the commission of “serious crimes against the basic principles of the Republic.” It is feared that Mr. Liu will be charged with “incitement to subvert state power,” a similarly arbitrary crime…..
The Chinese government should learn well the lesson of the Charter 77 movement: that intimidation, propaganda campaigns, and repression are no substitute for reasoned dialogue.