(New York) - The international community should immediately and collectively increase pressure on the Chinese government to release Liu Xiaobo, one of China's most prominent political prisoners, Human Rights Watch said today.
Liu was detained on December 8, 2008, in an apparent attempt by the authorities to prevent the distribution on international Human Rights Day of a manifesto for political reforms he had co-authored, Charter ‘08. Liu has yet to be indicted for any crime despite twelve months of detention and investigation by the authorities. Charter ‘08 is an online petition which calls for greater development of human rights and reform of China's one-party political system.
"Liu Xiaobo is a test case for the international community," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "To all governments who regularly profess that they bring up human rights with the Chinese government: this is the case you should fight for now."
Human Rights Watch said that the apparent wait-and-see attitude of the Chinese leadership on Liu's case offered a real chance for the international community to influence its outcome. Police detained Liu for several months before he was formally arrested on June 23, 2009. On November 23, 2009, they postponed his indictment by extending the investigation phase by two more months. Chinese law dictates that if charges are not brought by January 22, 2010, Liu must be released and the charges dropped.
Liu, a prolific writer and pro-democracy essayist, has been detained, arrested, and sentenced repeatedly for his peaceful political activities since the late 1980s. Arguably China's most well-known dissident abroad, he has received several international human rights prizes.
Upon his detention in December 2008, a group of leading writers, China scholars, lawyers, and human rights advocates from around the world, including several Nobel Prize winners, released a letter urging for Liu's release to Chinese President Hu Jintao. On January 21, 2009, the appeal was echoed by a consortium of 300 international writers coordinated by PEN, including Salman Rushdie, Umberto Eco, Margaret Atwood, and Ha Jin.
In March 2009, Liu was awarded the Homo Homini prize, which was presented by President Václav Havel to several other signatories of Charter ‘08 representing Liu at a ceremony in Prague. Human Rights Watch, as well as Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, and PEN have repeatedly called for his release, and recently asked President Obama to raise his case in his meeting with President Hu Jintao.
According to Liu's lawyers, the charge under which Liu was arrested, "incitement to subvert state power" (article 105 of the Criminal Law), initially targeted his role in co-drafting the text of Charter ‘08, but was then shifted to other articles he has penned over the past few years.
Article 105 is a common charge brought by the government against its critics. Its sweeping and undefined criminalization of "incitement to subvert state power" by its terms endangers free expression, and in practice is applied in an arbitrary and subjective manner.
"The international community cannot wait in silence for Liu to be sentenced," said Richardson. "There is a real chance of gaining Liu's freedom if governments act now."