Liu's case has lesson for Thailand

Liu Xiaobo, RIP - a portrait is displayed for mourning outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong. (AP photo)

Late on Thursday, China and its actions caught the attention of the world community when it was announced that 2010 Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo had passed away at 61 after losing his fight with liver cancer.

Liu died due to multiple organ failure at a hospital while under the surveillance of Chinese authorities, who had earlier refused to allow him to leave the country for treatment.

Liu advocated a Gandhian kind of resistance with peaceful means to achieve his goal of greater respect for human rights in China. From being involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident to his latest arrest in June 2009, Liu was imprisoned four times and behind bars for 11 years.

Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.

It was during his fourth stint in prison that he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for his work to promote the end of one-party rule in China.

Criticism of the way the Chinese government handled Liu's case was immense because China had refused to allow the ailing human rights fighter to travel abroad to get any treatment despite an appeal from world leaders.

The strongest words came from Taiwan, where recently elected president Tsai Ing-wen paid tribute to a "human rights warrior" and said Liu had striven to transform China into a nation where human rights and the rule of law were respected. "This was Liu Xiaobo's Chinese dream," Ms Tsai said.

"We hope that the Chinese authorities can show confidence in engaging in political reform so that the Chinese people can enjoy the God-given rights of freedom and democracy … Only through democracy, in which every Chinese person has freedom and respect, can China truly become a proud and important country," Ms Tsai said.

But despite Liu's Nobel Peace prize, the world had applied very little pressure on China to release him. The United States, Britain or Japan did not threaten isolation or sanctions against China throughout the time Liu was in detention and even when he was fighting for his life.

All these countries and many more had pressured Myanmar to free Aung San Suu Kyi or face sanctions and cuts in aid while she was under house arrest until 2010. During Ms Suu Kyi's arrest, many world leaders were also allowed to meet her under immense pressure from the world community. No such pressure seems to have worked with the Chinese authorities.

The fact of the matter is that the issues that matter most these days are the economic benefits that a country gets from those who are abusing basic human rights, and if that means turning a blind eye to some of the excesses committed by the oppressing country, then many countries are willing to do so.

One does not need to go that far to see what this means. Thailand, which has been under military rule since May 2014, has been playing a game to keep its head above water despite bodies such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) having come out to say that rights oppression in Thailand has been increasing since the coup.

HRW issued an open statement on how rights have been suppressed in Thailand by not allowing the voices of dissenters to be heard, the ability to arrest, detain and interrogate civilians without safeguards against abuse or accountability for human rights violations, and muzzling the media and its freedom of expression.

The abuse of rights is very visible from the fact that a university student has been in jail for more than six months and is being denied bail for an action that a few thousand other people had also committed. Student activist Jatupat "Pai" Boonpattararaksa has been charged with lese majeste under Article 112 of the Criminal Code and violation of the Computer Crime Act.

Mr Jatupat's case has already caught the world's attention and on May 18 the South Korean May 18 Memorial Foundation presented the Gwangiu Prize for Human Rights to him, with his parents receiving the prize on his behalf.

Despite this very visible abuse of basic human rights, one can see how the major powers are not bothered and not pressuring Thailand to live up to the global standards of human rights, all because Thailand has managed to play the geopolitical game very well by running to China.

In an ideal world, one expects to see all countries abide by what are considered to be the core values of human rights, with economic might and geopolitics not restricting punitive measures for those who breach those values.

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