Charter 77 signatories want Nobel nomination for Chinese contemporaries

Liu Xiaobo

Some of the original signatories of the human rights appeal Charter 77 have called on Czech politicians and academics to nominate the Chinese human rights initiative Charter 08 for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Charter 08 was originally signed by more than 300 people, including the human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, who’s been sentenced to 11 years in prison for his involvement.

Dana Němcová, photo: CTK
More than three decades ago a handful of Czechoslovak dissidents, including the man who would later become president, Václav Havel, created an initiative called Charter 77, which called on communist Czechoslovakia to respect the human rights it formally adopted when it signed the Helsinki Declaration. Charter 77 was subsequently signed by more than a thousand people, becoming an important focus of protest against state oppression, and enjoying considerable moral support abroad.

Now, many years later, the original Charter 77 signatories want the western world to show the same support for today’s Chinese human rights activists, many of whom have felt the wrath of the Chinese authorities since drawing up their own charter. Dana Němcová is one of the original Charter 77 signatories.

“We’re convinced that the Chinese Charter is something that could play a positive role in developments in China, towards lessening tension and fear and creating windows of opportunity for dialogue with the authorities. So Charter 08 very much draws on the experience of Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia; it’s inspired by our own struggle for human rights.”

Dana Němcová and several of her colleagues are calling on Czech politicians, officials and academics to nominate Charter 08 for this year’s 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. With Liu Xiaobo and many other activists already persecuted for their involvement, one might be tempted to assume the initiative is doomed to failure. But Dana Němcová sees hope, even though Charter has only been signed by a few thousand people in a population of more than a billion.

“I feel that precisely because China is so huge, there must be those who are in favour of change, those who support initiatives for greater relaxation of conditions. Of course the regime is highly repressive, but what we’re talking about here is giving those initiatives our support. For us in Charter 77 such support acted as a kind of shield, as a source of great assistance. We must not forget those brave enough to do what they’re doing in China, and we must provide them too with our support.”

Liu Xiaobo
Mr Liu’s imprisonment for “inciting subversion of state power” has already led to protests among former Czech dissidents; in early January the best known of them, Václav Havel, attempted to hand a letter to the Chinese embassy in Prague. The embassy gates, however, remained firmly closed, and the former president left the appeal in the letterbox.

Full text of Charter 08 -