by Keith Locke
On Friday the great news came through the Liu Xiaobo, jailed for his promotion of the Chinese democracy manifesto, Charter 08, had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Within 24 hours we had congratulatory messages from Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, the European Commission chief, Jose Manual Barroso, etc. Green co-leader Russel Norman welcomed the award on Frogblog. The Global Greens (of which our party is a member) also put out a statement .
Come Monday morning and still not a whisper from our government, so I put out a press release to hurry them up. This helped prompt questions to John Key as his post-Cabinet press conference that afternoon. He responded rather lamely that “I’m not aware of why he’s in jail and it’s not for me to comment about what’s appropriate in terms of a country’s putting people in those facilities.”
It could also be that the Prime Ministers was frightened by a kickback from the Chinese government, of the type that they had already threatened against Norway, the state hosting the Nobel Prize ceremony.
Annoyed at the shilly shallying I submitted to the parliamentary Clerk’s office a question to the Prime Minister for Question period this afternoon reading “Will he follow the example of world leaders Barack Obama and congratulate the latest Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo; if not, why not?” And then it all started to happen. “Yes the Government offers him our congratulations,” Mr Key told reporters. Labour and United Future also issued releases supportive of Mr Liu.
During Question period in the House, I was required to stick to the original wording of my question, as on the Order Paper, even though it was a bit dated. Then I asked the PM a supplementary question: “Will his government make any official representations to the Chinese government for the release of this brave human rights campaigner.” Mr Key responded that submissions had been made in the past, but would not say definitely this would happen in the future. Russel Norman and I had a “points of order” exchange with Speaker Lockwood Smith, with the aim of getting Mr Key to agree to future representations to the Chinese government. Unfortunately we weren’t able to nail that down, but we will be keeping on the case.
The Greens disagree with Barack Obama on quite a few matters, such as the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. However, on this occasion he performed much better than our PM, saying that “By granting the prize to Mr Liu, the Nobel Committee has chosen someone who has been an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and non-violent means, including his support for democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”