What is a good political dissident?

In october 2010 Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo received the Nobel Peace Prize “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” The 54 year old dissident has a long record of political activism. He continuously raised is voice against the Chinese one-party political system and discussed a whole range of taboo subjects such as the Chinese treatment of the Tibetans. For speaking out the inconvenient truth he was put into jail several times or received other treatments such as re-education through labor camps. In 2009 he was arrested because of the “Charter 08”, a collaboration of Chinese intellectuals who created a proposal for a new (democratic) constitution in China (more details about his biography). Liu Xiaobo is not the only dissident who got the Nobel Peace Prize, in fact there is a long line of other dissidents such as Nelson Mandela who got the prize for the same reason: the struggle for more democracy, rule of law, civil liberties and human rights. Even Julian Assange from Wikileaks is doing the exact same thing…

To reach those goals one thing is important: speak openly about the state of things. Criticize to make the world a better place. That is what all dissidents do and the reaction of those who are criticized is always the same: discredit the inconvenient person by all means. In case of China several arrangements were made:

  • Censorship, the Chinese TV censored the announcement of the Nobel committee. No one shall hear about the things that happened. Censor all published material such websites and ban books.
  • Additionally to reduce any damage done the dissidents name is erased from all sorts of informational sources as far as possible. The reason for that is to reduce the echo of the announcement because it stands against the official government point of view.
  • Furthermore the image of the person has to be changed by all means, a dissident is an unlawful person, a terrorist and must therefore be presented as the most evil. To discredit the target is most important.
  • Arrest the dissident if possible or at least arrest close relatives (such as wive and family). If you cannot find a reason, you might create one (such as threat to national security, treason, sexual violation)

All these arrangements have been made in the case of Liu Xiaobo. He sits in jail for the given reasons. The authoritarian regime in China was criticized by several international organizations and national states such as the US, the United Nations and others. Barack Obama made a noteworthy comment:

“Last year, I noted that so many others who have received the award had sacrificed so much more than I. That list now includes Mr Liu, who has sacrificed his freedom for his beliefs. By granting the prize to Mr Liu, the Nobel Committee has chosen someone who has been an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and non-violent means, including his support for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.”

Well done Mr. President but why are you ignoring your own speech when it comes to political dissidents that stand against the USA? And why are you acting against your promises to support transparency and protect whistleblowers before you were elected as US president? With the release of the diplomatic cables Wikileaks was attacked from all sides. If we look closely, we can see a lot of similarities between the Wikileaks case and the reaction of several US officials (such as senators or ambassadors) and the authoritarian government in China in the case of Liu Xiaobo. Lets take a look at what was done during the last days.

  • Before the documents were released, US foreign minister Hillary Clinton used her influence to reduce any possible damage by speaking with her colleagues all around the world. She pulled some strings. Some argue, that she did that afterwards too.
  • After the release of the documents it was stated that Wikileaks was a threat to national security and that its spokesperson Julian Assange was a terrorist (see other blog entries). His image is beeing attacked. He is not a hero because he stands against secrecy and for the freedom of speech, he is an evil, unlawful person now.
  • Furthermore, Julian Assange has to face a lawsuit because of sexual violations and is now persecuted by Interpol. It is very unlikely that an international arrest warrant is given because they want to question Mr. Assange for the court (it is very unclear if Assange has done this, nulla poena sine culpa). Assange’s lawyer sees a political maneuver in it because an international campaign against someone because of suspicion without any evidence rarely happens.
  • Wikileaks became a victim of DOS attacks. At least one of the reasons for that is that by bringing the Wikileaks page down, it cannot spread the inconvenient informations anymore. The source of the attack remains unclear, but it is noteworthy, that Sarah Palin demanded that such action should be taken.
  • Everdyns.net, which provided DNS services for Wikileaks terminated the Wikileaks domain citing the DOS threats to their infrastructure. This never happened before.
  • Wikileaks moved some of its data do Amazon web servers. Later Amazon banned Wikileaks because of “copy right violations”. Amazon argues that Wikileaks is not the rightful owner of the published documents and has therefore no right to publish them. It is said that Wikileaks violated the terms of agreement. Again, I don’t know of any case where the same measures where taken. If someone violates the copyright he gets a notification to stop it. Your website rarely is banned because of that. publication
  • Wikileaks gets its money from donations. On saturday, Paypal banned Wikileak’s paypal account because of the of “illegal” material.  Paypal says that it got no pressure from anyone.
  • The US government banned access to Wikileaks sites and websites with the name in it from government institutions web-terminals (for example in the library of congress, the cradle of liberal thought and knowledge). No employee of the US state department can access these websites. If they do, they have to fear consequences like students of Columbia University which are not allowed to comment the Wikileaks issue on Facebook.
  • Today, Mr. Assanges Swiss bank account was freezed. The bank says that “Mr. Assange provided false information regarding his place of residence” during the account opening process. Why do they recognize it now and not earlier?

It is not difficult to see the connection between Chinese actions against its dissident Xiaobo and US actions against its own dissident Julian Assange. The question is: Why are the actions of Mr. Xiaobo in China seen as right and legal (for the sake of human rights and democracy) and the actions of Mr. Assange (for the same reasons) wrong? Both dissidents did more or less the same thing! Why is the one dissident perceived as bad and the other as good when they do the exact same thing as all other dissidents?

I do not argue whether Wikileaks actions are right or wrong in this case. In general, transparency is necessary in open societies and the release of internal documents can help us to get a broader picture of world politics and even can help us to see the truth. (The release of the Iraq and Afghanistan documents was without any doubt useful and gave a new perspective, especially when it comes to human rights violations by allied troops). I argue against the actions that where taken by official sources that share similarities with actions taken in authoritarian regimes all over the world: the bounty hunt on dissidents with all means because they reveal inconvenient truth.

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