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Massive global effort to free Chinese Nobel laureate and his wife

Activists hold placards in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei on 27 February 2013 urging Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou to help free China's jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia.
Activists hold placards in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei on 27 February 2013 urging Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou to help free China's jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia.

REUTERS/Pichi Chuang

In an inspiring show of global solidarity, petitions signed by over 450,000 people in over 130 countries were delivered in the last week of February to Chinese embassies worldwide, demanding the release of imprisoned Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia, currently under house arrest. The campaign was led by the International Committee for Liu Xiaobo with the support of Amnesty International. Members of the Committee include IFEX members Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Human Rights Watch, which helped spread the word.

Liu Xiaobo, detained since December 2008, is the only Nobel laureate currently imprisoned, according to RSF, which formed part of a delegation on 27 February that delivered a petition to the Chinese embassy in Paris.

RSF said, "As well as being an appeal to Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping, who has the power to free Liu Xiaobo and his wife, it is also intended to be a message of support for all those who are fighting for freedom of information and expression in China."

While actions in support of Liu Xiabao have been underway since his arrest, the campaign gained huge momentum when Archbishop Desmond Tutu posted a petition on the online activism site on 4 December 2012. The petition, based on a letter already signed by 134 fellow Nobel Laureates across all six Nobel disciplines, urged incoming Chinese President Xi Jinping to immediately and unconditionally release Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia.

The Nobel Laureates wrote, "Across all disciplines, the distinguishing feature which led to our recognition as Nobel Laureates is that we have embraced the power of our intellectual freedom and creative inspiration to do our part to advance the human condition." Since then, close to half a million people from 130 countries have signed the petition. Supporters worldwide took symbolic photographs of themselves in front of local landmarks, with a picture of Liu on an empty chair to highlight his imprisonment.

Archbishop Tutu said, "These petitions represent the voices of people around the globe imploring the new Chinese government to release Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia. We hope this will show China that the world supports their willingness to hear the voices of their people."

"It is wonderful to see such a massive and genuine outpouring of support for Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia," said Jared Genser, the founder of Freedom Now. "Clearly, the citizens' movement lead by Archbishop Tutu speaks with one voice when it calls for the immediate release of the Lius. We urge the Chinese government to heed this moral imperative."

Since the launch of the campaign in December last year, every new signature on has sent an email to officials in Chinese consulates and embassies around the world. Many NGOs, including IFEX, linked to the petition online. You can still add your name to the petition.

"Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia represent the hopes and aspirations of millions of Chinese who are currently silenced. This show of solidarity from people all over the world sends a powerful message to the Chinese government to free this courageous couple and all other prisoners of conscience," said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.


Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo is serving an 11-year sentence for "inciting subversion of state power" for his part as the leading author behind Charter '08, a manifesto calling for the respect of fundamental human rights in China. His wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest since shortly after the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced her husband's selection as the Peace Prize Laureate for 2010. He was honoured with the prize "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China."

The International Committee for Liu Xiaobo, which is comprised of six Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and 15 NGOs, was launched in December 2011 before the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo. Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu (Peace 1984) and Sir Richard Roberts (Physiology or Medicine 1993) led the initiative to send the letter signed by Nobel laureates to the Chinese authorities, with the support of Freedom Now, which serves as international counsel to both Liu Xiaobo and his wife.


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