China’s way on human rights

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China’s way on human rights

China slapped a severe 11-year prison term on Liu Xiaobo, one of the country’s most well-known dissidents, showing itself to be as intransigent as ever when it comes to human rights. The verdict, which was handed down on Christmas Day by the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court, stated that Liu, a former professor and pro-democracy activist, was guilty of rebelling against the Communist Party through his work on a petition called Charter 08, which called for reforms in both the political and legal systems. He had been detained for nearly a year after he posted the manifesto he drafted with hundreds of intellectuals on international Web sites demanding a multiparty system, the independence of the judiciary and freedom of the press, speech and religion.

The world expressed disappointment and concern about the sentence, which came after a closed trial. The United States called for Liu’s immediate release and the European Union castigated China for the lack of free speech and fair trials. One human rights watcher lamented that the outcome of the trial sent a strong message to the world that China is still not serious about its statements about human rights. The world had been hoping for a decision that was equivalent to the country’s rising economic and diplomatic ranking on the global stage.

That China is hard on those who criticize its single-party system and state authority is not news. Some 35 activists have been indicted and imprisoned on subversion charges since 2003. Guo Quan, an associate professor at Nanjing Normal University, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on subversion charges after he established an independent political party in protest against the monopoly on power held by the Communist Party. Earlier this year, human rights activist Huang Qi got a three-year prison term for questioning the handling of the school collapses during the Sichuan earthquake.

China may find it hard to control the 56 ethnicities that make up the Chinese population, as well as its Confucian and socialist legacy, without prioritizing state power over individual rights. But the international pressure on China is not the same as in the past. The world expects a show of leadership befitting its global status - as much on foreign and economic matters as on human rights. Its rejection of global criticism as interference in its internal affairs is irresponsible for a country and economy of its size. Whether it likes it or not, China can no longer insist on getting its way when it comes to human rights.

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