U.S. legislators urged President Obama in a letter this week to press for the release of two Chinese dissidents when he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao in November.
Obama and Hu will meet at the G20 summit scheduled for Nov. 11-12 in Seoul, South Korea.
The dissidents, Liu Xiaobo, a writer, and Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer, are described as “prisoners of conscience” in the Oct. 4 letter signed by a bipartisan group of 29 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and sent by the congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
“Liu Xiaobo is a renowned scholar and human rights advocate who helped draft Charter 08, [an online petition] which called for an improvement in [China’s] human rights situation and respect for rule of law,” the letter reads.
Liu was sentenced on Dec. 25, 2009, to 11 years in prison on charges of “incitement to subvert state power.” He is widely considered a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded later this year in Norway.
Gao Zhisheng, the letter said, “was targeted as a result of his defense of religious minorities,” including members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.
“The Chinese government has illegally detained Mr. Gao without charge or trial in unknown locations since February 2009,” the letter said. “After a sustained international outcry, Mr. Gao was released on March 31, 2010, but again disappeared on April 20 and has since been held incommunicado.”
In an interview, Hans Hogrefe, Democratic Staff Director for the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, said that Liu and Gao "represent a whole class of prisoners" in China.
“We need to address [China’s] underlying problems by focusing on two people that we can discuss in the framework of the G20.”
Hogrefe expressed hope that China’s president will “take the request to heart.”
“In those side meetings, there are huge opportunities to discuss bilateral matters of concern that otherwise would have to be put off for another state visit, or for international fora, to discuss those cases and see if progress can be made.”
Reported in Washington by Richard Finney.