Jailed Chinese dissident and campaigner for democratisation of China, Liu Xiaobo, has finally been officially handed over the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize at Oslo, despite vehement protests by the Chinese government. Its call for boycott of the award function was also not heeded by too many countries which matter, including India. Quite significantly the award function was also held on December 10, the day observed all over the world as International Human Rights Day. There can be no doubt that Xiaobo deserves the prize on the merit of his courage, integrity and commitment to usher in a more democratic and liberal China, and indeed opinions are undivided on the good the award would do to China in the long run. China experts all over the world are of the opinion that China would now have to give more concession to civil society voices after this major embarrassment. Despite the diplomatic new hiccups India would have in its long-strained relations with China, we join to applaud the recognition of Xiaobo’s untiring and undaunted commitment to human rights.
There is however a huge rider. Even as Xiaobo was being thus honoured for his criticism of the Chinese establishment for its lack of transparency and its serious implications on Human Rights in his country, another high profile fighter for transparency in governance, Julian Assange, the founder of the now famous, Wikileaks, is in jail and is being hounded. Complicating the matter is that the immediate charges against him for his arrest are two rapes he supposedly committed Sweden. Swedish rape law it seems are much more elaborate and protective of the victim than anywhere else in the world. According to reports, even in the case of sex which began consensually, if the woman withdraws consent midway, it still amounts to rape. According the statement of one of his alleged victims, this actually was the case. It began consensually, but midway she withdrew consent apparently for the lack of condom. Indeed one of the vital evidences for rape against him is that he did not wear condoms in these incidents, and irreverently the cases are also being referred in some circles as the “broken condom cases”. Experts have pointed out that his acts in most other countries, including the US, would not have amounted to rape. Kudos to Sweden nonetheless for a law that defends the woman to such an extent. We would have had nothing to say against the arrest if not for the timing.
While the rape case continues to take its own course, and perhaps it would have been a low key affair had it not been for the website earning the enmity and wrath of the US after it got hold of and publicised classified diplomatic notes of the US, exposing the country’s intents and policies towards other countries. According to news reports, the US even wants Assange extradited to the US to be tried for treason, and there are even extreme demands for him to be treated as enemy combatant and executed.
Assange was arrested in London, and this extradition to the US is unlikely to happen according to international legal experts, although he may be sent to Sweden. It is unfortunate that the two cases, that of the rape allegations and the Wikileaks expose, are somewhat being allowed to be confused thus causing a subterfuge. For a more just arbitration, the two needs to be separated and dealt with separately. We for one in defending Wikileaks expose do not want to end up speaking on behalf of its founder in the rape cases. But the logic can work the other way as well. In wishing him to be deservedly tried for the alleged rapes and punished if found guilty, we can also end up dismissing the Wikileaks expose case in the same breath.
Having made this position clear, we want to point out the irony of situation in the Nobel Prize case. A Chinese dissident bravely stands up against his government and seeks to expose its ugly underbelly and he gets the Nobel Prize. He deserves it richly too. But somebody else dissents against the manner in which a powerful Western country conducts its political business and exposes documents proving this, and his act is called treachery. Perhaps it is too early for condemnations, for who knows next year just to balance out the act, the Nobel committee could think of Assange as a Nobel Peace candidate. This will be interesting to watch though for earning the displeasure of China and earning the displeasure of the US are two different things altogether.