In an interview with Human Rights in China (HRIC), Tiananmen Mothers’ representative Ding Zilin (丁子霖) called for a peaceful collective action to support Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波). Liu is facing an imminent trial on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” in connection with six essays he wrote and his role in initiating Charter 08, an appeal for human rights protection and democratic reform that was released in December 2008. The document has been signed by some 10,000 people. Ding urges the signers of Charter 08 to go to the court on the day of Liu’s trial.
The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
“Let them know that the will of the people cannot be cowed.”
HRIC Interviews Ding Zilin, December 16, 2009
[Translation by HRIC]
Human Rights in China (HRIC): Professor Ding, we saw your appeal on the Internet, which said, “On the day that Liu Xiaobo is tried, I hope that as many [Charter 08] signers as possible will gather outside the court, to be part of the trial.” How did you come up with this appeal?
Ding Zilin: A few days ago, a friend sent me a copy of [the online appeal by Charter 08 signatories titled,] “We Are Willing to Share Responsibility with Liu Xiaobo,” and asked me and my husband, Professor Jiang Peikun (蒋培坤), to sign as well. At the time, the signatories already included elderly gentlemen such as Yu Haocheng (于浩成), Zhang Sizhi (张思之), Mao Yushi (茅于轼), and Bao Tong (鲍彤). As signatories to Charter 08, we are willing to share responsibility with Liu Xiaobo. That was why we signed our names on that document.
After I signed, I still felt very troubled and depressed. Charter 08 was not drafted and initiated by Liu Xiaobo alone – everyone joined in. So why arrest and try only him? Perhaps they didn’t dare arrest more people. But to have Liu Xiaobo alone locked up – I couldn’t reconcile myself to that, couldn’t bear it. When we say, “share responsibility,” how do we do that? You know, I am not a person who likes empty talk. We cannot simply state our position – sharing responsibility requires action. But what can we do? We don’t have many options, except for joining him outside of the court during the trial. They will not allow us into the court to hear the trial, therefore we can join the trial outside the courtroom. This is what we can do. At least, we have to let Liu Xiaobo know that he is not alone, that his wife Liu Xia (刘霞) is not alone. Their friends, the signatories to Charter 08, will face the trial with him outside the court. This idea came from my heart.
HRIC: What do you hope to accomplish in gathering people to show up in front of the court?
Ding Zilin: I also made my appeal out of anger. We want them to reckon with the will of the people, to know that the will of the people cannot be cowed. Signing Charter 08 reminded me of the 1989 Democracy Movement and the spirit of the intellectuals at that time who were concerned about the country and the people. I am not saying that all of the Charter 08 signatories are concerned about the country and the people, but the majority of them are; they represent China’s conscience. Charter 08 itself is the embodiment of China’s conscience.
HRIC: Liu Xiaobo’s indictment says that his “criminal acts are serious.” What do you think about this?
Ding Zilin: I am shocked and, even more so, appalled. But this is a tyrannical government, so what can one do? Twenty years ago, during June Fourth, they relied on murder. These past twenty years, they’ve relied on the police. And there’s their propaganda mouthpieces, which tell nothing but lies and rely on deceit. By murder, arrests, deceit – this is how they govern. They say that Liu Xiaobo “incites subversion of state power”; I say that they are subverting themselves. The princelings take the lead in corruption, and then there are corrupt officials everywhere. This country is already rotten to the core. Just who is the one subverting state power?
HRIC: You have been calling for Liu Xiaobo’s release ever since his arrest.
Ding Zilin: Yes. I wrote President Obama an open letter before he came to China, and I asked Human Rights in China to deliver it to him. I asked that he use his influence during his China visit and urge the Chinese government to release Liu Xiaobo. But after Obama arrived in China, he held closed-door talks and soft-pedaled human rights issues. According to a U.S. Embassy official, Obama did not raise Liu Xiaobo’s case with President Hu Jintao. And I have not received any reply from Obama.
Liu Xiaobo has been detained for a year now. All along, the Chinese government has been trying to feel out the attitude of the U.S. about this. After Obama’s China visit, China became certain that the U.S. will not do anything if Liu Xiaobo is sentenced. So, less than one month after the visit, they decided to try Liu Xiaobo, and they intend to sentence him harshly. Liu Xiaobo has written many articles criticizing the Communist Party of China over many years, and it’s already been one year since Charter 08 was issued, so why did they wait until now to indict him? The fact that the U.S. is keeping a low profile with regard to human rights issues allows the Chinese government to be even more unreasonable. Under pressure from international public opinion directed against Liu Xiaobo’s indictment, recently Hillary Clinton finally issued a statement appealing for Liu Xiaobo’s release, which I welcome.
HRIC: What do you plan to do on the day of the trial?
Ding Zilin: When the time comes, I’ll put on my warm clothes and take along a wooden stool. While they’re trying Liu Xiaobo, I’ll be sitting outside the court. Liu Xia urged me not to go, saying that I’m too old and that my health isn’t good. But I want to go. I don’t have any heart conditions, and I will not be making any sharp movements. I’ll just be sitting there.
HRIC: Do you expect that many people will respond to your call to join the trial outside the court?
Ding Zilin: Of course. The more people who go, the better. I made the appeal, but I don’t know how many people will be able to go. Whatever it is, it is. Even if it were just me, I would still go. It’s only that I’m worried that they would make a surprise attack, that is, conduct the trial without anyone knowing. In any event, the trial is just going through the motion and it wouldn’t take long. The court judgment has already been decided beforehand. Liu Xiaobo’s judgment has been decided by the top level of the CPC. Additionally, when the time comes they might send people out to watch us, to hole us up in our homes. If this is the case, then we won’t be able to go. But as long as there’s a sliver of hope, we will certainly go.
HRIC: Thank you and take care!