Yesterday four senior Communist Party members submitted a letter calling for the release of Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison last month for charges of subversion.
These four are known for their liberal views and in their letter addressed to "incumbent party and government leaders", they urged the authorities to reconsider the verdict against Liu, one of the authors of Charter 08, calling for greater political liberalization in China.
While the letter did not directly call for the human rights campaigner's release, He Fang, one of those who signed it, said so to the Associated Press. "To reverse the verdict and to find that Liu is not guilty and to release him," he said. "Also, to safeguard the constitution and the rights of freedom of speech." He is an honorary member of the academic committee at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The other three cadres who signed the letter were Hu Jiwei, a former chief of the People's Daily, Li Pu, former deputy chief at the Xinhua News Agency, and Dai Huang, a former Xinhua senior reporter. They are all in their 80s and 90s which is why their seniority could protect them from harassment, and make leaders take notice.
The letter said the main evidence against Liu was that he had called for the establishment of a Chinese "federal republic", but the four contend that he had used the "correct slogan" which had been used since the early days of the Chinese Communist Party.
"If the judge violates the constitution and has no knowledge of the history of the party... and makes false and incorrect accusations that will seriously tarnish the image of the country and the party, then it's difficult to prove that China is a country ruled by law and a harmonious society," the letter said.
It's very interesting that these senior cadres have come out in support of Liu. What prompted them to do that, and in particular, why now? Why not back in December when he was convicted and there was international outrage at the length of his sentence, let alone how his trial was conducted?
However, the fact that they are speaking out at all about it is very refreshing, and it shows some old timers are really paying attention to the future of the country that they helped build.
While many senior cadres are conservatives whose hardline views can sometimes hold back China's progress, especially socially and politically, it's good to know there are some elders who are anxious for the country to move forward and see the importance of being more liberal.
"These four are senior cadres that have been quite an open-minded force within the party for years," said Patrick Poon, vice president of the Independent Chinese Pen Center, which posted the letter on its website. "They have always been very supportive for pushing forward political reforms while the economic reform has been going well in China."
This letter is good news for Liu in receiving support from such high circles; it also keeps his situation in the spotlight so that he does not fade into obscurity, like the fate of many other dissidents.
What happens now is anyone's guess. It will be hard for the central government to reverse its decision mostly because it would be a loss of face. But perhaps this will lead to his sentence being shortened.
How many more liberal senior cadres are there? They seem to be the only people able to make the government accountable for anything. Mostly in their 80s and 90s, there aren't many more left...