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(New York) – By mounting a pre-determined political trial of China’s most prominent dissident, the Chinese government is violating the rights of Liu Xiaobo and showing contempt for its universal human rights commitments, Human Rights Watch said today.

Liu Xiaobo, a leading intellectual who spent nearly two years in prison after the Tiananmen crackdown, has been indicted for “incitement to subvert state power,” a charge frequently used against dissidents because it allows the criminalization of criticisms of the government and the party. Liu’s trial is due to open on the morning of December 23 in Beijing.

“The only purpose of this trial is to dress up naked political repression in the trappings of legal proceedings,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Liu’s crimes are non-existent, yet his fate has been pre-determined. This is a travesty of justice.”

Liu has been indicted for “incitement to subvert state power” for his contribution to the drafting of “Charter ‘08,” a political manifesto calling for human rights and the rule of law in China, as well as several articles he had published in previous years. He was arrested on December 8, 2008, and detained for over a year before being indicted. He faces up to 15 years in prison, the maximum under a single charge of “fixed-term imprisonment” under Chinese law.

Although Liu was promised an open trial, his wife Liu Xia was told by court officials this week that she would not be allowed to attend the trial. Several original co-signatories of Charter ‘08 who had earlier expressed their solidarity with Liu Xiaobo, as well as other supporters, have been warned by security agents that they should not attempt to attend the trial and placed under police surveillance.

“Liu Xiaobo’s case has been marked by grave rights violations from the outset,” said Richardson. “His arrest was political, the charges are political, and his trial is political.”

Human Rights Watch urged foreign governments to continue to press the Chinese government for Liu Xiaobo’s immediate release.


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.

After 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.

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