- The Washington Times - Monday, October 11, 2010

The Chinese government’s blatant disregard for free speech was placed in the spotlight once again when longtime Chinese dissident and political prisoner Liu Xiaobo won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 8.

Journalist Mark MacKinnon sent a string of tweets from China discussing the media “coverage” of the announcement, including this one: “CNN also being censored in China. I’m in minute four of staring at a blank screen that started shortly after the word ‘Nobel’ was uttered.”

In Dec. 2008, 303 Chinese covering a broad cross section of people, including lawyers, writers, intellectuals, peasants and businessmen, released an open letter, “Charter 08,” which called for democratic reforms and human rights protection in China. Liu Xiaobo was among them, a co-author of Charter 08.

The document reads: “Having experienced a prolonged period of human rights disasters and challenging and tortuous struggles, the awakening Chinese citizens are becoming increasingly aware that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, republicanism and constitutional government make up the basic institutional framework of modern politics. A ‘modernization’ bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives people of their rights, rots away their humanity and destroys their dignity.”

The document decries China’s atrocious history on human rights and states that even as China has opened up and allowed increased freedom in the past decade and a half, “this political progress has largely remained on paper - there are laws, but there is no rule of law; there is a constitution, but no constitutional government; this is still the political reality that is obvious to all. The ruling elite continues to insist on its authoritarian grip on power, rejecting political reform.”

The group demanded, as Americans did during the American Revolution, that rights are inherent, not bestowed by the state. They call for checks and balances through a separation of powers, legislative democracy and judicial independence; guaranteed human rights; freedom of association and expression and religion; election of public officials; protection of private property; and more.

The New York Times published Mr. Liu’s final public statement on its blog today, which he delivered in court last year just before he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for his words and actions. In that statement, he said, “What I required of myself was: Both as a person and in my writing, I had to live with honesty, responsibility and dignity.” His statement reflects this. “I have no enemies and no hatred,” he said. None of the police who have monitored, arrested and interrogated me, the prosecutors who prosecuted me, or the judges who sentenced me, are my enemies.”

His statement indeed praised the improvements in China’s treatment of prisoners, and he heralded those changes as proof that China is on course to become a free country. “I firmly believe that China’s political progress will never stop, and I’m full of optimistic expectations of freedom coming to China in the future because no force can block the human desire for freedom,” he said.

“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.”

It seems that here in the United States, many don’t realize how good we have it, as some lawmakers want to limit freedoms to participate in the political process. Look at the legislation that congressional liberals champion: The DISCLOSE Act would intimidate political donors into silence; card-check legislation would do the same to workers who oppose unionization.

More glaring even was the Obama administration’s decision to sign on to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s resolution against “hate speech,” which, as the National Journal reports, is a small but significant step toward ending free speech. The resolution, broadly worded, calls on countries to “take effective measures consistent with their obligations under international human rights law” to “address and combat” not only “incidents of racial and religious intolerance, discrimination and related violence” but also “negative racial and religious stereotyping.” As National Journal writer Stuart Taylor wrote, “The ambiguously worded United Nations Human Rights Council resolution could plausibly be read as encouraging or even obliging the U.S. to make it a crime to engage in hate speech … despite decades of First Amendment case law protecting such speech.”

Hate speech is not good speech. But outlawing it is the beginning of a slippery slope that undermines the First Amendment. We have it great here in America, but we must defend the freedoms we have, or one day, we might be the country blacking out who won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Darin Miller is a writer and the media coordinator at the Family Research Council.