(New York) - The formal arrest of Chinese rights activist Liu Xiaobo on charges of subversion signals a hardening of the political climate in China, Human Rights Watch said today. Liu had been held incommunicado since his detention on December 8, 2008, after co-signing Charter 08, a document calling for greater democracy in China.
Liu was formally arrested on June 23 for "alleged agitation activities aimed at subversion of the government and overthrowing of the socialist system." Subversion is punishable in China by up to 15 years in prison. The petition signed by Liu last December, Charter 08, urges putting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law at the core of the Chinese political system. Originally signed by 303 Chinese citizens, including rights defenders and legal activists, it has been widely circulated online and has now collected more than 8,000 signatures.
"Liu Xiaobo's arrest indicates that the room for peaceful political dissent is shrinking in China," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Liu's apparent ‘crime' was that he exercised his right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution."
A former professor of literature, Liu spent nearly two years in prison following the crackdown on the June 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Following his detention in December, which violated the minimum procedural guarantees specified under Chinese law, a group of prominent signatories, including several Nobel Prize winners, sent an open letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao urging him to secure Liu's release.
Liu's lawyer, Mo Shaoping, has not been allowed to see him since December.
Liu's formal arrest follows the disbarment of several leading rights lawyers in May, a tightening of media censorship around the 20th anniversary of the June 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, and a directive requiring computer manufacturers to include with all computers a new software - which will give the Chinese government the ability to increase its control of Internet communications - by July 1.
"By jailing the country's most prominent intellectual dissident, whose writing activities it had tolerated for many years, the Chinese government sends its citizens a clear signal of political hardening," said Adams. "But it also misses an opportunity to show the outside world that the government is confident enough to tolerate thoughtful and peaceful domestic criticism."
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