Yesterday, July 13, marked one year since Liu Xiaobo’s death. It was also Oleg Sentsov’s birthday (his 42nd).
Liu Xiaobo was the foremost democracy leader in China. He was also a political prisoner, of course. In 2010, he received the Nobel Peace Prize, in absentia. Last year, he finally succumbed to his torments, surrounded by state agents, as he long had been. The Chinese Communist Party treated him savagely.
The day of Liu Xiaobo’s death, President Trump poured praise on the boss of the CCP, unfortunately. “A great leader,” said Trump of Xi Jinping. “He’s a very talented man. I think he’s a very good man. He loves China, I can tell you. He loves China. He wants to do what’s right for China.” Etc.
Oleg Sentsov is a filmmaker and writer from Crimea, and a political prisoner of Vladimir Putin’s regime. He was arrested in May 2014, shortly after Putin’s annexation of Crimea. For more than two months now, Sentsov has been on hunger strike. This is a common tactic of political prisoners all over the world, and it was frequently used in the Soviet Union — by Sakharov and Sharansky, for example.
Liu Xiaobo has a wife, a widow, Liu Xia. The CCP has treated her savagely too, although she is still alive. When the Nobel committee announced its prize in 2010, Liu Xia was put under house arrest — a brutal form of it, completely isolating her. Her mental and physical health deteriorated badly. After eight years, she was finally let out of the country. She arrived in Berlin on Tuesday.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, made Liu Xia’s case a priority. Earlier this year, she raised it with Xi Jinping directly. Germany’s efforts in Liu Xia’s behalf have been “aggressive,” as the New York Times put it (in this article).
I myself would like to go see Liu Xia. Chances are, she will not be speaking to the press or speaking out, however. The CCP has kept her brother, Liu Hui, as a hostage back in China. Liu Xia wanted to take him with her, but the Party forbade it. This is what they do. The day after Liu Xia’s release, the Party sentenced Qin Yongmin, another democracy leader, to prison (13 years). His wife, Zhao Suli, is under house arrest. Again, that’s what they do.
President Trump is meeting with Putin on Monday. For generations — since at least Nixon — U.S. presidents have used meetings with Kremlin leaders (let’s call them) to press for the release of political prisoners. Vladimir Kara-Murza wrote about this on Friday, here. (He is the Russian democracy leader who has twice been poisoned, almost to death.)
One excerpt from Kara-Murza’s column:
Reagan made personal advocacy on behalf of political prisoners a hallmark of his Soviet policy, handing Gorbachev lists of names at their every meeting. “There are too many lists,” Gorbachev complained at one point.
President Trump could present a list, too, at the top of which might be Oleg Sentsov — followed by Alexei Pichugin, who has been in prison longer than any of them (15 years). Kara-Murza has a list in his column.
I hail Merkel for what she has done, but the United States is the leader of the Free World. We have leverage, including with Beijing, including with Moscow. Previous presidents have used this leverage to do good, in multiple ways. So can President Trump.