In July 1978, the Soviet dissident Anatoly Sharansky was sentenced in a Soviet court for the “crimes” of teaching Hebrew, seeking emigration to Israel, and being part of the human rights movement in Moscow. He was charged with treason and espionage for these activities. His speech to the court is rightly famous:
During my interrogation the chief investigators threatened me that I might be executed by a firing squad, or imprisoned for at least fifteen years. But if I agreed to cooperate with the investigation for the purpose of destroying the Jewish emigration movement, they promised me freedom and a quick reunion with my wife.
“Five years ago, I submitted my application for exit to Israel. Now I am further than ever from my dream. It would seem to be cause for regret. But it is absolutely the other way around. I am happy. I am happy that I lived honorably, at peace with my conscience. I never compromised my soul, even under the threat of death.
“I am happy that I helped people. I am proud that I knew and worked with such honorable, brave and courageous people as Sakharov, Orlov, Ginzburg, who are carrying on the traditions of the Russian intelligentsia [in defending human rights in the Soviet Union]. I am fortunate to have been witness to the process of the liberation of Jews of the USSR.
“I hope that the absurd accusation against me and the entire Jewish emigration movement will not hinder the liberation of my people. My near ones and friends know how I wanted to exchange activity in the emigration movement for a life with my wife Avital, in Israel.
“For more that two thousand years the Jewish people, my people, have been dispersed. But wherever they are, wherever Jews are found, every year they have repeated,‘Next year in Jerusalem.‘ Now, when I am further than ever from my people, from Avital, facing many arduous years of imprisonment, I say, turning to my people, my Avital, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’
“Now I turn to you, the court, who were required to confirm a predetermined sentence: To you I have nothing to say.”
Yesterday another hero of resistance to communism spoke in a similar courtroom, this time in Beijing. This was Xu Zhiyong, convicted of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order.” In fact his New Citizens Movement works for change within the Chinese system and is entirely peaceful. After his sentence of four years in prison was read out, Xu loudly said this to the court:
This ridiculous judgment cannot hold back the tide of human progress. The haze of the communist dictatorship must eventually lift and the light of freedom, fairness, justice and love will eventually fill China.
These moments remind us of the astonishing courage of those struggling for human rights under communist systems–and of their eloquence. Xu, who is 41, is a lawyer and activist–with a brand new daughter whom he may now not get to see until she is four years old. What does he seek for China? He has explained it:
I wish our country could be a free and happy one. Every citizen need not go against their conscience and can find their own place by their virtue and talents; a simple and happy society, where the goodness of humanity is expanded to the maximum, and the evilness of humanity is constrained to the maximum; honesty, trust, kindness, and helping each other are everyday occurrences in life; there is not so much anger and anxiety, a pure smile on everyone’s face.
We can only hope that the China Xu seeks will come into being one day, and soon enough for him to be one of those who enjoy it– and lead it.