The Passing of Liu Xiaobo

Today, we mourn the loss of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Liu Xiaobo. Earlier this month, the world received the news that Xiaobo was released from a Chinese prison, but what should have been joyous news was clouded with sadness as we learned that he was in the final stages of terminal liver cancer. He would take his last breath outside the prison walls, but his death would still be at the hands of China’s brutal regime.

In 2010 the Lantos Foundation was privileged to be part of a delegation of human rights activists, mostly Chinese dissidents, who were representing Liu Xiaobo when the imprisoned Laureate received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. We remember well the poignancy of the empty chair on the stage representing the absent honoree who was sitting in a Chinese prison. Tragically his chair will remain forever empty as Liu has become the first Nobel Laureate to die in state custody since the German pacifist, Carl von Ossietzky, died at the hands of his Nazi tormentors in 1938. What a shameful distinction for the Chinese government to share.

But while this peaceful defender of human rights has been silenced, his courageous life speaks volumes and his example and his words will continue to inspire his countrymen and those who fight for democracy and human rights in every corner of the world.

Liu’s death has been headline news around the world but in a very real sense he represents thousands of forgotten individuals who are imprisoned and tortured at the hands of brutal authoritarian regimes but whose stories are never covered in the media. If American advocacy for human rights and justice is to mean anything at all, our government must do more to support these political prisoners and to hold accountable the governments and individuals who so brazenly abuse their fundamental rights. One way of doing this is through the vigorous enforcement of the Global Magnitsky Act.  

In April, President Trump pledged the Administration’s commitment to the “robust and thorough enforcement” of the Global Magnistky Act, saying, “My Administration is actively identifying persons and entities to whom the Act may apply and are collecting the evidence to apply it.” The evidence in the case of Liu Xiaobo is clear and we call on the Administration to take action against the responsible parties under the Magnitsky Act.

Liu Xiaobo’s legacy of integrity, love, and sacrifice will far outlive the deeds of those who have persecuted and imprisoned him. Long after these persecutors have been forgotten on the ash heap of history, his life, words, and deeds will continue to light the way for future generations.