Liu Xiaobo's Supporters Urge Trump to Level New Sanctions on Chinese Officials for His Death

Rep. Chris Smith describes Chinese officials' failure to diagnose and treat Liu's cancer earlier as 'disguised death sentence'

Liu Xiaobo / Getty Images
July 14, 2017

Members of Congress, human rights activists, and Chinese dissidents called on the Trump administration and other world leaders to impose new sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for the arrest, imprisonment, and death this week of Liu Xiaobo, China's most famous political prisoner.

Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.), a leading human rights advocate in Congress, also said U.S. universities with campuses or programs in China, such as New York University, should face tough questions from Congress about what they are doing on their American campuses to raise awareness of Xiaobo's legacy of standing up for democratic reform and human rights and the decades of imprisonment he faced because of it.

"I think this needs to be pivot to human rights in his legacy because there are still others suffering greatly [in China's prisons]," Smith said Thursday. "There has to be a response to this the likes to which we've never seen before."

Smith made the comments during a House hearing he organized and chaired that scrutinized the medical care Liu received from the Chinese government during his final years in prison and laid out a roadmap for a U.S. response to his death on Thursday.

Liu, 61, a writer and a poet, first became known worldwide for his role in helping to organize the 1989 pro-democracy protests in China's Tiananmen Square, which the Chinese government violently quashed. He received the Nobel Peace Prize for his life-long fight for freedom and human rights in 2010 while serving his fourth and final prison sentence on subversion charges.

He was hospitalized in China in May for late-term liver cancer, which activists and supporters say should have been detected and treated by his Chinese jailers much earlier. The Chinese government repeatedly denied his request to receive liver treatment abroad, including a last-minute campaign in his final weeks from family members and supporters to persuade Beijing to let him travel to the United States or Germany for palliative care and advanced treatment.

Smith and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) both noted that they had attended Liu's Nobel award ceremony and pledged that his fight to bring greater freedoms to China would not be in vain.

Yang Jianli is a pro-democracy activist and University of California at Berkeley mathematics professor who participated in the 1989 demonstrations and served five years in prison in China. Yang testified that he believes the Chinese government chose not to treat Liu's cancer earlier, which he viewed as a disguised death sentence. The Chinese government is refusing to release his medical records, which Yang says are classified as "top secret of the state."

"I think the international community should call for the release of Liu Xiaobo's medical records to his family and the experts that the family hired to examiner this case," he said.

Yang also accused western countries of appeasing China, making them accomplices to Liu's "slow murder."

"If the world continues to acquiesce to Chinas aggression against its own people, appeasing the Chinese Communist Party without any moral clarity, Liu Xiaobo's tragedy will repeat, and more human-rights activists will languish and disappear in Chinese prisons," he said.

Smith, Yang, and Liu's attorney, Jared Genser, pressed the Trump administration to fight for the release of Liu's wife, Liu Xia, who has been placed under house arrest in China ever since her husband received the Nobel Prize. They also said the administration needs to use the power under the Magnitsky Act, a bipartisan bill aimed at punishing Russian officials involved with the death of Russian lawyer and auditor Sergei Magnitsky, to target Chinese officials responsible for Liu's arrest, imprisonment and death, with sanctions preventing them from traveling in the U.S. or having any financial transactions with U.S. people and businesses.

Genser pledged to compile a lists of approximately 12 to 15 Chinese officials: "everyone responsible" for Liu's arrest, trial, imprisonment, medical care "or lack thereof" that the Trump administration can use for targeted sanctions.

"That should be among a number of different things that should be done to send a very clear message about where the United States stands in regard to those who are actually responsible," he said. "There will be no justice and accountability, of course, for anybody in China, but there needs to be some measure of justice and accountability for Liu Xiaobo as part of his legacy."

Smith held a moment of silence for Liu at the end of the hearing.