Once again the Chinese government shows that it really does not believe in its own constitution. (Article 35. Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.)
Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years after a secret trial. He was found guilty of subversion. What Liu is really guilty of is drafting a petition that called for political and economic changes in the country. The petition became known as Charter 08.
Why is this significant to journalists?
Basically because it shows the current leadership in China isn’t really different from the leadership of the country during the past 60 years. Well, there is one difference, now they try to wrap their decisions in legal language instead of just operating off the whims of a few old men.
The trial of Liu and other Charter 08 supporters is similar to the trial of John Peter Zenger almost 300 years ago in the United States.
For those who forgot their Press Freedom 101 lessons (From The Trial of John Peter Zenger: An Account By Doug Linder)
On November 5, 1733, Zenger published the first issue of the Weekly Journal. It included a detailed account of the victory the previous week of Lewis Morris as Popular Party candidate for assemblyman from Westchester, NY.
The first effort to silence the Journal occurred in January 1734 when Chief Justice Delancey asked a Grand Jury to return indictments based on the law of seditious libel. The Grand Jury, however, refused. Delancey tried again when the next Grand Jury met in October. He presented the grand jurors with broadsides and “scandalous” verse from Zenger’s Journal, but the jurors, claiming that the authorship of the allegedly libelous material could not be determined, again refused to return indictment.
Then, in an effort to get around the Grand Jury’s refusal to indict, [Governor William]Cosby ordered his attorney general, Richard Bradley, to file “an information” before Justices Delancey and Philipse. Based on the information, the Justices issued a bench warrant for the arrest of John Peter Zenger. On November 17, 1734, the sheriff arrested Zenger and took him to New York’s Old City Jail, where Zenger would stay for the next eight months.
After a brief statement from John Chambers, Zenger’s court-appointed attorney, Andrew Hamilton rose to announce that his client–sitting in an enclosed box in the courtroom–would not contest having printed and published the allegedly libelous materials contained in the Weekly Journal and that “therefore I shall save Mr. Attorney the trouble of examining his witnesses to that point.”
The argument boiled down to freedom of the press and freedom of speech.
In his closing statement Zenger’s lawyer said:
The question before the Court and you, Gentlemen of the jury, is not of small or private concern. It is not the cause of one poor printer, nor of New York alone, which you are now trying. No! It may in its consequence affect every free man that lives under a British government on the main of America. It is the best cause. It is the cause of liberty. And I make no doubt but your upright conduct this day will not only entitle you to the love and esteem of your fellow citizens, but every man who prefers freedom to a life of slavery will bless and honor you as men who have baffled the attempt of tyranny, and by an impartial and uncorrupt verdict have laid a noble foundation for securing to ourselves, our posterity, and our neighbors, that to which nature and the laws of our country have given us a right to liberty of both exposing and opposing arbitrary power (in these parts of the world at least) by speaking and writing truth.
Zenger was acquitted and set a precedent for press freedom in the United States.
Simply calling for change or calling out corruption is not treason nor sedition. Most civilized countries understand that. And these countries back up their words of freedom of press and speech with actions that defend these rights.
Too bad China only has the words. It’s actions are still those of dictators with little regard for its people.