Chinese rights activist Liu Xiaobo has been detained on charges of “inciting subversion of state power”. Liu was jailed for 2 years following the TIananmen Square protests in 1989 that ended with a massacre of unarmed protesters. He was one of the co-authors of Charter 08, a petition calling for the diversification of China’s one-party system. Human Rights Watch and other watchdog organizations have strongly condemned his arrest.
Chinese authorities have now charged Liu with crimes related to agitation and conspiracy to destabilize the state and overthrow the socialist system. Calls for his release have been persistent and widespread. China has warned international delegations it will not be pressured and views the issue as entirely an internal affair. Qin Gang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said China is a nation governed by laws and that the case will be reviewed by independent jurists ruling on matters of law.
Richard Buangan, a representative from the US Embassy in Beijing, is quoted as saying “The US government is deeply disturbed by reports that Liu Xiaobo has been formally arrested and charged with serious crimes”. Buangan added: “We call on the government of China to release Mr. Liu and respect the rights of all Chinese citizens who peacefully express their desire for internationally recognised freedoms.”
Liu Xiaobo, a literary critic first jailed for his role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations, was taken from his home in Beijing late on Monday by a dozen police officers and was asked to sign a document acknowledging his detention. They searched his flat and took away three computers, mobile phones and documents, friends told The Times.
The Charter 08 [full text, English translation] was released on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and draws from that foundational UN bill of rights. 303 prominent critics of the Beijing government risked retaliation and imprisonment by putting their names on the document. Signatories include lawyers and rights activists, former top figures in the Communist party and a prominent Tibetan blogger.
The document’s preamble opens with these words:
This year is the 100th year of China’s Constitution, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 30th anniversary of the birth of the Democracy Wall, and the 10th year since China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. After experiencing a prolonged period of human rights disasters and a tortuous struggle and resistance, the awakening Chinese citizens are increasingly and more clearly recognizing that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal common values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, a republic, and constitutionalism constitute the basic structural framework of modern governance. A “modernization” bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives humans of their rights, corrodes human nature, and destroys human dignity. Where will China head in the 21st century? Continue a “modernization” under this kind of authoritarian rule? Or recognize universal values, assimilate into the mainstream civilization, and build a democratic political system? This is a major decision that cannot be avoided.
Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives and long a vocal critic of China’s human rights record, has called for condemnation of the arrest from the international community. She also has said Liu has “courageous” and suggested that his ideas should be heard by a wider audience in China.
There have been reports that other framers and supporters of the Charter 08 movement have been harassed, threatened or detained. China recently sought to suppress efforts to mark the 20th anniversary of the massacre of pro-democracy supporters at Tiananmen Square. A number of other important anniversaries will occur this year, and China has made clear it intends to treat the Charter 08 backers as hostile to the state, fearing the possibility of widespread unrest due to a worsening economic downturn and tens of millions of workers laid off.
… the voices of dissatisfied citizens have grown stronger and louder: The Internet is burgeoning with citizen-journalists uncovering new cases of corruption and official venality. More streets and fields have become scenes of labor and land-rights protests as more citizens have taken the freedom at least to demand justice.
In 2004, the Chinese government amended the national constitution to include a guarantee of protection for human rights. But the intervening years have not demonstrated a political willingness to follow through on the spirit of that pledge. Charter 08 is born of the frustration many feel regarding the government’s failure to improve its record on the treatment of basic human rights and instituting checks and balances in the system.