While we have not had the occasion to meet, I join with millions around the globe in extending my deepest condolences on the loss of your husband, Liu Xiaobo. His decades’ long peaceful fight for human rights and the end to one-party rule in China earned not only international honors in the form of the Nobel Peace Prize, but also countless admirers, myself among them, who continue to stand in solidarity with his aspirations.
Even as there are discussions underway among policymakers in Washington, D.C., about how best to honor Liu Xiaobo’s life and legacy, there is a growing sense of urgency regarding your own plight. Few take at face value the Chinese government’s claims that you are free. This claim comes from the same people who have callously deprived you of nearly all contact with the outside world for seven years, forcing you to live in virtual isolation and under constant surveillance. Your illegal home confinement is a source of international outrage, especially given the fact that you’ve never had charges brought against you. Similarly, the Chinese government’s assertions that you are currently being “protect[ed]” from reporters, supporters and friends for your own good ring hollow given its shameful refusal to honor you and your husband’s wishes to seek medical treatment outside of China.
Many Americans and people around the world believe these and other injustices demand accountability. Current U.S. law gives the President of the United States the authority to impose visa bans and to freeze the assets of any foreign citizens who suppress basic human rights; surely the Chinese government’s treatment of you and your husband meets this standard. Other measures, including sanctions, can be brought to bear. I fear that if there is no price to pay for the Chinese government’s treatment of your husband, arguably China’s most prominent political prisoner, it will send a devastating message to thousands more like him, whose names we may not know but whose harassment, imprisonment, deprivation of rights, denial of medical treatment, torture in detention, and more, are daily realities.
News accounts of your late husband’s funeral service and cremation, the scattering of his ashes, and the Chinese government’s tightly scripted narrative surrounding these events, are further evidence of Chinese Communist Party’s fear of your husband and his legacy. Chinese officials’ refusal to allow for a gravesite was no doubt due to their concern it would serve as a pilgrimage site for protesters and sympathizers who yearn to see China as your husband envisioned it: democratic, free and respectful of the basic rights of all its people. Fortunately, the principles Liu Xiaobo embodied are not bound by time or place, and his dream of democracy in China cannot be extinguished, despite the relentless efforts of China’s censors.