Václav Havel gets closed door reception at protest supporting Chinese dissident

Václav Malý, Václav Havel, Pavel Landovský (left to right), photo: CTK

Former Czech president Václav Havel headed a delegation to the Chinese embassy to protest against the harsh prison sentence handed down by the Chinese government to a leading dissident. The dissident was one of the co-authors of a petition calling for greater human rights to be granted by the Chinese authorities. That petition was inspired by a Czechoslovak campaign for respect of human rights under the former Communist regime.

Václav Havel turned up outside the Chinese embassy in Prague on Wednesday to present a protest against the 11-year jail sentence handed down to Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo at the end of December.

Václav Malý,  Václav Havel,  Pavel Landovský  (left to right),  photo: CTK
Liu was convicted on charges of subversion on the basis of six articles he published on the Internet and the leading role he played in drawing up Charter 08, a document calling on the Communist regime to respect basic human rights. Its demands include abolishing the laws on subversion, granting freedom of religion and expression and election of public officials. Inspiration for the petition came from the Czechoslovak Charter 77 movement which challenged the then regime to adhere to its international commitments to respect human rights.

Václav Havel, who was in the forefront of Charter 77, was flanked by fellow former dissidents, charter signatory and actor Pavel Landovský and Bishop of Prague, Václav Malý.

But the three were given the Chinese stonewall treatment. Nobody from the embassy turned up to receive their open letter so they were forced to post it in the letterbox.

Liu Xiaobo
Václav Havel recalled the parallels between what happened in Czechoslovakia 30 years ago and in China today.

“It is precisely 33 years ago that we published Charter 77. In this way we protested and were afterwards dramatically locked up. We are here now because we are asking the Chinese President and Chinese government not to repeat what happened to us 33 years ago where fighters for freedom were pursued and persecuted.”

In fact on January 6, 1977, Havel together with Landovský and writer Ludvík Vaculík were arrested by police on charges of subversion.

Bishop Malý said that the embassy reception was symbolic of China’s regard for human rights. He said the appeal was aimed at the international community which is often keener to concentrate on economic issues in China rather than human rights.

Václav Malý,  Václav Havel  (right),  photo: CTK
“The appeal that we have seen here is very important also for the international community not to forget the people defending freedom in Chinese society. The world is fascinated by the Chinese economy. One develops relations with China but it is necessary to see not only the economic situation and the economic goals of China but above all the concrete issues of human rights. And this must be a basic condition of all treatment and negotiations with China.”

The former Czech dissidents are hoping that their contribution to the muted international condemnations so far of Liu’s treatment will help his appeal against the prison sentence. But the closed door treatment they received should probably be a pretty clear signal for the fate of those hopes.