Human Rights Activists in China Locked Up For Speaking Out

China expressed outrage over the Nobel committee’s decision to award its prestigious Peace Prize to incarcerated Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo.  But the real outrage is China’s treatment of those who dare to speak truth to power.

Liu is just one of many Chinese human rights activists who currently languish in jail in the country (you can take action for Liu here). They are prisoners of conscience, jailed solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

The human rights movement in China is growing, but those who attempt to report on human rights violations or challenge government policies face serious risk of abuse. The authorities make frequent use of vaguely-worded charges to silence and imprison peaceful activists, such as “subversion of state power” (the charge which gave Liu a 11-year sentence), “endangering state security” and “separatism”.

Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia, became another victim of this crackdown when she was placed under house arrest after she returned home from visiting Liu in prison after he had won the Nobel prize.  She joins other prominent Chinese activists who have been targeted for daring to criticize the government.  Below we profile five human rights defenders currently locked up in China for speaking out.

Liu Xianbin, 43
Detained since 28 June in Suining Province, Sichuan

Liu XianbinThe prominent Sichuan democracy activist has been held on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” since being seized by security officers at his home four months ago. Local human rights activists believe he is being punished for his activism and defence of human rights. Liu was first imprisoned in 1992 for his participation in the 1989 pro-democracy movement. In 1998, he co-founded the Sichuan branch of the China Democracy Party. The following year, he was sentenced to 13 years in jail for “subversion of state power”. After his release in November 2008 he continued to speak out against the Chinese government. He was a prominent supporter, together with Liu Xiaobo, of Charter 08, a proposal for fundamental legal and political reform in China that aims to achieve a democratic system that respects human rights. He has also published articles on human rights and democracy and worked to increase public awareness of other persecuted activists. Liu is currently awaiting trial.


Happy World Health Day!

Today is the 60th World Health Day, which the World Health Organization uses to highlight a different health theme each year. Today it’s making hospitals safe in emergencies, which WHO Director-General Margaret Chan promoted at an event in China, nearly a year after the Chengdu earthquake. The WHO’s activities to mark the anniversary of the disaster seem to have been warmly received, unlike those of environmental activist Tan Zuoren, who last week was detained by the police in Chengdu, apparently because he planned to publish a list of children who died and a report on the role corruption played in the schools that collapsed. He’s currently at risk of torture.

Here in the United States, particular hospitals are vulnerable to disasters like Hurricane Ike — and our health care system as a whole is facing a slow-motion emergency. The figure you often hear of one in six people in the United States lacking health insurance is just the tip of the iceberg — one in three non-elderly Americans was uninsured at some point in the last two years (as Families USA recently reported).

Our health outcomes are a cause for shame: on women’s lifetime risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth, the United States ranks 41st in the world, and black women have three times the maternal mortality rate of white women (as AIUSA is currently investigating).  

Will health care reform fix these problems? That’s up in the air right now. But the starting points for that process are cause for despair: What can get past a filibuster? What will entrenched interests sign off on?

Human rights give us a fundamentally different place to begin. As the WHO’s constitution says,

The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.

A health care debate that takes human rights seriously starts where the WHO’s constitution does: every human being has the human right to health care. That’s exactly where AIUSA’s new statement of health care principles begins: for a health care system to fulfill the human right to health care, it must be universal — as well as equitable and accountable.

Do you agree that health care is a human right? Then celebrate World Health Day by adding your name to AIUSA’s petition. Join us in bringing human rights to the health care debate!

AIUSA has joined with the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, the National Health Law Program, and the Opportunity Agenda to form the Health Care is a Human Right Coalition. Don’t miss NESRI and NHeLP’s ten human rights principles for financing health care (long version, short version, press release), and OA’s State of Opportunity in America, 2009, which assesses the current state of health care as well as income, education, poverty and incarceration.