Now, the 61-year-old intellectual and literary critic has liver cancer — and the Chinese authorities are refusing to allow him to travel to the United States for medical treatment. If Mr. Liu’s incarceration for “inciting subversion of state power” was appalling, the way China has handled Mr. Liu’s illness should give pause to any government or business seeking to form closer ties with Beijing.
No lawyer or independent medical professional has been allowed to see Mr. Liu since his diagnosis. This is particularly troubling given that Reuters recently reported that Mr. Liu’s “time is limited” because of a fluid buildup around his stomach. Mr. Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, herself under house arrest, was allowed to see her husband in the hospital, but only under the close watch of guards. In the meantime, the Chinese authorities released a preposterous video in which a figure purported to be Mr. Liu exercises and undergoes “routine medical exams.”
But Mr. Liu’s treatment is anything but routine, as indicated by his release from prison on medical parole and the Chinese state’s condemnations of outside meddling — a sign the authorities are worried. Clearly, Beijing is concerned about what a tragic end for this famous dissident could mean for its international reputation.
All of this calls to mind the recent case of Otto Warmbier, the American citizen who, as a result of strong U.S. pressure, was released in June after being imprisoned last year by North Korea. When he went to the hermit kingdom as a tourist he was a healthy young man; when he returned home to Ohio he was in coma and died days later. North Korea continues to deny any wrongdoing.
China, like North Korea and other authoritarian regimes, has a penchant for brutality, lies and self-deception. I know this from personal experience.
In 2005, the Chinese authorities began what would turn out to be seven years of persecution of my family and me in retaliation for my work as an activist and lawyer, which focused on the corruption of the Communist Party, including its violent one-child policy. I was kidnapped, put in jails and detention centers and sentenced to over four years in prison on a bogus charge of “disrupting traffic order.”
In serving out my sentence in prison — where torture, forced labor and inhumane conditions were the norm — I was occasionally brought to the medical wing for sham exams performed by a staff made up of convicts who had a smattering of experience in medicine or biology. I was never seen by a properly trained doctor, despite grave illness and serious injuries inflicted on me by other inmates on order of the wardens. Before I was released, I was given a “medical exam” during which they injected me with drugs that caused me to be unable to speak properly for many days.
Once I returned home, my family and I were immediately placed under house arrest, during which we suffered from extreme deprivation, isolation, and beatings. If fleeing entered our minds, we were deterred by guards in our house and in our village tracking us 24 hours a day.
I was severely ill, and my wife often heard the guards chatting among themselves, saying they thought either I or my elderly mother would die soon. Meanwhile the authorities publicly claimed — accompanied by propaganda photos and videos — that I was well and free. Ultimately I escaped, crawling to a nearby village on my hands and knees — a task made more difficult given my blindness. I arrived, finally, at the United States embassy in Beijing in 2012. Now I live in freedom in America with my family.
My case and Mr. Liu’s are fairly well known in the West, but there are many attorneys and activists in China who have endured horrific suffering. Such political prisoners are routinely denied due process under the law and are forced to participate in show trials in which verdicts are predetermined by Communist Party insiders. Some don’t survive prison: Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, Cao Shunli, Li Wangyang and Peng Ming-Min are among those who have died behind bars. Families of the victims will likely never get clear answers, as their loved ones’ organs are immediately removed and bodies cremated before independent autopsies can be performed.
For a nation with no rule of law, one of the main levers for influencing the status quo is outspoken condemnation from foreign governments and the public. Authoritarian regimes fear public shame, which is why it is time to shame China’s Communist Party for its brutal treatment of Mr. Liu and other champions of liberty currently being held by Beijing.
The Trump administration had no qualms about condemning North Korea’s shameful treatment of Otto Warmbier. The White House should do the same for Liu Xiaobo by forcefully demanding his immediate release to the United States for medical treatment.
The document that sent Mr. Liu to prison, Charter 08, insists that “every person is born with inherent rights to dignity and freedom.” That sounds a lot like the Declaration of Independence we will be celebrating tomorrow. This Fourth of July, will we in America use our freedom to call for the liberation of others?
Chen Guangcheng is a civil-rights activist and the author of The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man’s Fight for Justice and Freedom in China.