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Liu Xiaobo's death a warning to the Vatican

The nature of the Nobel Peace Laureate's death is a signal of how Beijing deals with dissent

Liu Xiaobo's death a warning to the Vatican

Just over a week before his death, protestors prepare to post postcards written and addressed to Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo outside the General Post Office in Hong Kong on July 5. Liu, 61, one of China's most famous pro-democracy advocates and political prisoners, died in Chinese custody at a hospital on July 13. (Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP)

Michael Sainsbury, Paris
China

July 14, 2017

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The end for Nobel Prize Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, 61, one of the very bravest of human beings and great citizens of modern China, came far too early and far too quickly.

He died, in hospital under guard — the first peace prize winner since 1935-winner Carl von Ossietzky died in a hospital while under Gestapo custody in 1938.

In 2009, Liu was sentenced by a closed kangaroo court of China's ruling Communist Party. He was sentenced to 11 years' jail for just writing. His history of agitating peacefully for a fairer, freer and more democratic China stretched back to the protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989 that ended with a bloody massacre.

What he was up against was a party that claims to despise the West, despite wrapping itself in its own, warped version of western Marxist ideology.  

Liu's show trial was held and his sentence handed down on Christmas Day 2009. This alone should ring warning bells in the chambers of the Vatican's Secretary of State Cardinal Petro Parolin.

Already at least two bishops — and numerous priests — including Bishop James Su Zhimin from Baoding have disappeared into the bowels of the Chinese system.

Now the Holy See and Beijing are in negotiations on bishop appointments while in the background the Party continues cracking down on any Chinese Catholic official seemingly stepping out of line.

Under house arrest and pressure since his 2012 stand against the Party, Bishop of Shanghai Thaddeus Ma Daquin is headed toward some sort of reconciliation with Beijing.

Meanwhile Wenzhou's Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin remains in unlawful custody, the fourth time he has been detained since the Vatican confirmed him as Bishop of Wenzhou last September. This case is now openly vexing for the Vatican. So concerned, the Holy See took the rare step of issuing a statement condemning Bishop Shao's treatment by the Chinese authorities.

Whether this is a coded way of expressing frustrating with the negotiations or not is, really, moot. The point is that the Communist Party continues to see Christianity and indeed all organized religion as a threat. As such it treats these organizations — that cross ever-moving lines on what is tolerated and what is not — with precisely the same ruthless inhumanity that was meted out to Liu.

It is not just individuals or organizations that the Party punishes but states, as well. After handing Liu the Noble Prize, Norway was put in the diplomatic deep freeze and only let out last year. Still, the Nobel committee admirably stuck to its guns with its statement on Liu's death.

There is so much tragedy here it's hard to know where to begin. It is beyond doubt that Lu was allowed to become ill to such an advanced stage without proper treatment. Every minute of his suffering — and this was his third stint in prison — was inflicted by the Party and signed off on by its supreme leaders Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping — the man that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is moving just a little too close towards for comfort (but that's another story).

Yet, this is a life that we must celebrate and his untimely, unnecessary death must not, in the end, have been in vain. Already the outpouring of grief from within and outside China is shining a harsh light on his treatment and the Communist Party's regime that under Xi Jinping has become even harsher.

Our thoughts, too, are with his equally brave wife Liu Xia who has suffered under extra judicial house arrest as so many do and have in China.

Liu of course, was just one of many. Far too many of his like-minded friends, including human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, remain incarcerated or otherwise suppressed by the terrible system that caused his death. Pu himself is a diabetic and in the months leading up to his own show trial in 2015, his family complained he was receiving inadequate treatment.

As Jerome A. Cohen, one of the most distinguished western academics in the field of Chinese law noted on his blog, such treatment is tantamount to state-sponsored torture.

"Foreign governments have the right to complain about the People's Republic of China's denial of internationally-guaranteed human rights to the Chinese people. The PRC, for example, in the exercise of its vaunted sovereignty, chose to limit its sovereignty by ratifying the U.N. Convention against Torture that spells out in detail all the kinds of conduct that constitute internationally forbidden torture, mental as well as physical. The PRC's mistreatment of its many political dissidents plainly violates this convention in many respects.

"The case of Liu Xiaobo's widow, Liu Xia, is an obvious example of the PRC subjecting to forbidden torture someone who has not even been accused of a crime or even legally detained. As to her husband, we don't know the facts of his final imprisonment and the extent to which he was denied adequate medical treatment but it is widely suspected that the authorities at least demonstrated indifference to his increasingly dangerous medical condition and that its mistreatment of Liu Xiaobo could well be deemed a violation of the Convention against Torture.

"Of course, Liu Xiaobo's criminal conviction was based on the regime's suppression of his freedom of speech and the violations of criminal justice protections that marked his prosecution."

You can bet that Bishop Shao and other Catholics and Christians are suffering some form of state sponsored physical, emotional or psychological torture, as well. The ugly truth is that is what the Chinese government does.

As one commentator has noted, only two years separated President Xi Jinping and Liu yet there is a vast gulf in the difference of the two men's understanding of human dignity and value.

As we mourn the death of Liu and continue to be concerned about the welfare of his wife and so many others under the repressive heel of the Communist Party, Pope Francis, Cardinal Parolin and his negotiators should ponder whether the preservation of the church's structures and hierarchies are worth turning even the hint of a blind eye to the Communist Party's terrible treatment of its people.

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