Friday, December 10, 2010

The Power of An Empty Chair

Until this morning, I had never heard of Liu Xiaobo. He is a Chinese writer who has been imprisoned and held incommunicado by his government for the past year, charged with inciting to overthrow the regime. Today, however, he was thrust onto the world stage as the the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. For the first time in 75 years, nobody was there to accept this award - Liu's wife and relatives are either in jail or under house arrest - and so his award was draped over an empty chair during the ceremony.

When will the oppressive totalitarian regimes of the world learn that by trying to silence the voice of one person, you give more volume and credence to that person's message? I would never have given the story about the Nobel Prize a second glance, had it not been for the controversy of Liu's detainment. If the Chinese government had allowed him to speak freely before, there would be no reason for him to even be nominated.

The empty chair on the stage of the Oslo City Hall, with the picture of Liu Xiaobo gazing down in mute testimony, was more powerful and potentially damaging to the Chinese government than any words that one person could ever utter. 

Because he could not speak, today, I have excerpted a portion of "I Have No Enemies: My Final Statement To The Court" which was delivered by Liu on December 23, 2009, after he had been sentenced to 11 years on prison. It was read today by actress Liv Ullmann as part of the Nobel Prize ceremony.
I still want to tell the regime that deprives me of my freedom...I have no enemies, and no hatred. None of the police who have monitored, arrested and interrogated me, the prosecutors who prosecuted me, or the judges who sentence me, are my enemies. While I’m unable to accept your surveillance, arrest, prosecution or sentencing, I respect your professions and personalities.

For hatred is corrosive of a person’s wisdom and conscience; the mentality of enmity can poison a nation’s spirit, instigate brutal life and death struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and block a nation’s progress to freedom and democracy. I hope therefore to be able to transcend my personal vicissitudes in understanding the development of the state and changes in society, to counter the hostility of the regime with the best of intentions, and defuse hate with love.

Freedom of expression is the basis of human rights, the source of humanity and the mother of truth. To block freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, to strangle humanity and to suppress the truth.

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