Liu Xianbin, a veteran democracy and rights activist from Suining, Sichuan Province, has been called a “Guardian of Conscience.” Liu was the first person to receive a heavy sentence since the Jasmine rallies began in early 2011. Liu has spent 12 of the past 20 years in prison.
In 1989, Liu committed himself to the student demonstrations. After the June Fourth crackdown, Liu took a stand and, together with his friends, protested the authorities’ brutal massacre, and began planning underground publications. In 1992, he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison on charges of “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement.”
After his release, Liu continued to engage in pro-democracy activities, founded Citizens’ Forum (公民论坛), and drafted many open letters and appeals and participated in their signature campaigns. He also participated in organizing an opposition party, applied to the Sichuan Department of Civil Affairs to register the Sichuan Provincial Preparatory Committee for the China Democracy Party, and founded the Sichuan branch of China Human Rights Watch. In August 1999, Liu was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment on charges of “subversion of state power.”
Liu was released in November 2008 and threw himself into rights defense activities. He was among the first signers of Charter 08; wrote essays calling for political reform and criticizing the shoddy construction that proved deadly in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake; joined in activities to support the Three Netizens of Fujian1; and started the Yellow Ribbon Movement to demand the release of imprisoned and detained rights defenders.
In June 2010, Liu was detained again and was later sentenced to 10 years for “inciting subversion of state power.” To voice their support of him, people in 17 provinces and cities across China and abroad organized “I Am Liu Xianbin” concerned citizens groups and legal aid groups, and initiated the “Citizens Relay Hunger Strike” campaign and other actions.
Over the years, Liu has paid a great price for his efforts to promote progress in Chinese society. He has been separated from his family far more than he has been with them, and was unable to pay his final respects to his mother before her death. However, he holds no anger or regrets. Instead, he has laid bare his aspirations: “I will tell my child: ‘In the final period of darkness in Chinese history, I had continued to strive to live and fight as a person or as a citizen!’”
1. The Three Netizens of Fujian—Fan Yanqiong (范燕琼), You Jingyou (游精佑), and Wu Huaying (吴华英)—wrote essays and released videos online in June 2009 to help expose a police cover up of a rape and murder case. They were convicted of “libel” by the Mawei District People’s Court of Fuzhou and sentenced to between one and two years in prison. ^