Clifford Coonan: A man resigned to persecution

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Liu Xiaobo is a softly-spoken, pointedly intellectual kind of person, with a wry sense of humour that belies his strong commitment to his democratic beliefs. He is a man long resigned to the inevitability that his principles would land him in jail again.

The reaction among friends of Mr Liu and people sympathetic to his ideas is hardly one of surprise. But those who were potential signatories of the document that earned the ire of the authorities, and those who read his online essays criticising the Communist Party, are certainly angry.

Many people who support his cause, and that of the Charter 08 movement, wear yellow ribbons to show their allegiance.

One blogger wrote that the yellow ribbons are to show "support and shared responsibility for Liu, who is a brave man who was sued for the practice of the natural rights of free speech."

China is indifferent to what the West thinks about how it runs its political system. It has a strong economy and it believes that its form of authoritarian rule is the best way to help China advance.

China has made huge advances during 30 years of reform, and its people are freer now than ever, but they have little freedom in the way of political rights. And so long a sentence is a reminder of how far there still is to go.

The news was carried in English but not Chinese on the Xinhua state news agency, and all Chinese language references were blocked. The government is pretty indifferent to the news that is picked up in the West, but it does not want the domestic audience to hear about this case.

Word of his heavy sentence spread quickly on Twitter, which is blocked in China, but which the web-savvy get around using VPN software.

One young girl wrote of how she stood in the cold to make her protest. A policeman took her ID card, she was questioned, and later an older policeman returned her card.

"It's a cold day. Why do you bother?" the policemen said.

Her reply was: "You also feel cold. Why do you bother?"

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