Vera Fennell is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University. Her research centers on China, Africa and China in Africa. You can follow her on twitter at @VeraFennell1
In light of American college student, Otto Wambier’s “death” in custody in an authoritarian state, Liu Xiaobo’s death shows how these states treat those in official police custody and the role of international pressure. Other Chinese dissidents, like Wei Jingsheng, author of the 1978 “Big Character” wall poster, “Democracy: The Fifth Modernization”, was tried and arrested in 1979. By 1993, international pressure and, specifically, calls for his release by US President Bill Clinton, lead to his release one week before the International Olympic Committee had to vote on the location of the 2008 Olympics. Wei continued his pro-democracy activism and was re-arrested. He was released in 1997 for medical reasons and deported to the US for treatment.
But the CCP control over media and information is so total, that most of the Tiananmen Square protesters probably did not know who Wei Jingsheng is and what he did.
Liu Xiaobo was more than just a political dissent. He was a professor of comparative literature at Beijing Normal, a teacher’s college. His activism was long and deep. He was chief editor of “Democratic China” magazine and the only writer of the “China Charter 08” to be arrested. The Charter, signed by many human rights activists, called for democratic reforms in governmental structure and an end to one-party rule. For that, only he was arrested and found guilty of “inciting the subversion of state power”. He was a patriot. He loved his country and its people and he sacrificed his life for so they could hear or read of the goals outlined in the Charter.