Today, several thousand Hong Kong people marched from Chater Garden in Central to the Chinese government’s liaison office in Western District to protest a number of causes: foot-dragging on the introduction of universal suffrage, and the existence of ‘rotten borough’ functional constituencies, among them. For me it was heartening to see the great number of placards also demanding freedom for Liu Xiaobo, the mainland dissident sentenced last week to 11 years in jail for speaking his mind.
As it prepared to host the 2008 Olympics, China pledged a more open society, with respect for dissenting voices. It broke those promises almost as quickly as it made them, and if anything, China has only become more repressive since then. Liu’s heavy jail sentence seems calculated to send a message: that opposition to one-party rule will not be tolerated in China, and the protests of foreign governments and human rights groups — let alone the ordinary people — can be waved aside.
No peaceful demonstration is possible in China. It falls to Hong Kong people to stand up in support of their compatriots over the border, and today they did.
In the publishing trade, we are nothing without the right of free speech. So my new year’s wish is for the release of Liu Xiaobo and all the other people imprisoned for their views, and looking further ahead into the new decade, a more mature China which feels secure enough to allow opposing voices to be heard. Is it possible?