Words put Chinese Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo behind bars. The organizers of Berlin’s International Literature Festival hope they can secure his release.
Liu Xiaobo was the only one smiling all evening - a huge black and white picture of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was projected behind the podium at the Martin Gropius building in central Berlin.
Although smiling in the picture, Liu Xiaobo is one of the harshest critics of China's one party system. His attitude has earned him many enemies - including those who put him in jail, said Herbert Wiesner, secretary general of the German branch of PEN, an organization that works to defend freedom of expression.
On this Anniversary of the Political Lie, March 20, Wiesner had gathered with a number of writers and activists in an event supported by countless writers and institutions across the world to call for Liu Xiaobo's release.
Fellow speakers included Nobel laureate in literature Herta Müller, the Chinese writer-in-exile Liao Yiwu, the head of Berlin's International Literature Festival Ulrich Schreiber, and Tienchi Martin-Liao, the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center.
A bold manifesto for freedom
The participants of this global event did not read their own works but those of Liu Xiaobo, who has written poems, prose and essays, and a bold manifesto for democracy, Charter 08.
Actor Roland Schäfer read the manifesto in its entirety. It took 27 minutes - a seemingly long time, but nothing compared with the seven years in jail to which Liu Xiaobo was sentenced in 2008, on charges of subversion.
Liao Yiwu, who has lived in Germany since last year, pointed out that while the manifesto might seem to be quite ordinary in the West, its demands for freedom of expression and free elections are of extreme importance for the Chinese, many of whom have been fighting for them for a century.
Courageous people are needed to campaign for the manifesto's demands - writers such as Herta Müller for example. She berated Western governments and companies for not being more critical of the Chinese government. Even people in the cultural sector are too willing to cave in, she lamented. She was livid that no Chinese writer-in-exile or dissident had been invited to the coming book fair in London. "In a country where it doesn't cost anything. When we see what price this man (Liu Xiaobo) is paying, it is shocking," she said.
A reading against forgetting
Liao Yiwu also paid a heavy price for expressing himself. Before arriving in Germany last year, he had been jailed and tortured, and his books were banned.
Liao Yiwu says he felt understood in Berlin
He said he felt immediately comfortable on arrival in Berlin, especially because there were so many interested readers here. He recalled his feelings of loneliness disappearing almost immediately and his sense of being understood for the first time. Readings such as these are extremely important, he added, because they help ensure that writers like Liu Xiaobo are not forgotten.
Asked by an audience member whether Liu Xiaobo was likely to ever find out about this event, or others like it, Tienchi Martin-Liao said she was certain he knew he was not alone or forgotten. "I hope he will not remain in jail until 2020. Who knows what will happen in the meantime?"
Author: Rebecca Roth / act
Editor: Sarah Berning