Today, universal human rights provide a check on arbitrary majorities around the world, whether they are democracies or not. A majority in a parliament cannot decide to harm the rights of a minority, nor vote for laws that undermine human rights. And even though China is not a constitutional democracy, it is a member of the United Nations, and it has amended its Constitution to comply with the Declaration of Human Rights.
However, Mr. Liu’s imprisonment is clear proof that China’s criminal law is not in line with its Constitution. He was convicted of “spreading rumors or slander or any other means to subvert the state power or overthrow the socialist system.” But in a world community based on universal human rights, it is not a government’s task to stamp out opinions and rumors. Governments are obliged to ensure the right to free expression — even if the speaker advocates a different social system.
These are rights that the Nobel committee has long upheld by honoring those who struggle to protect them with the Peace Prize, including Andrei Sakharov for his struggle against human rights abuses in the Soviet Union, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his fight for civil rights in the United States.
Not surprisingly, the Chinese government has harshly criticized the award, claiming that the Nobel committee unlawfully interfered with its internal affairs and humiliated it in the eyes of the international public. On the contrary, China should be proud that it has become powerful enough to be the subject of debate and criticism.
Update: Danwei points us to a spoof People’s Daily cover posted on a Chinese microblog site that translates Jagland’s piece: