Leading Chinese dissident indicted after year in jail without charges


Activist moves closer to trial: case brings China’s human rights record into focus again, writes CLIFFORD COONANin Beijing

AFTER ONE year in jail without formal charges, Chinese police have finally presented a case against prominent dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was instrumental in producing the outspoken Charter 08 manifesto calling for sweeping democratic reforms.

The indictment brings the soft-spoken writer and literature professor closer to a trial and ends a lengthy and fraught period for his family, who only knew that an investigation into his case had been extended three times in a year.

The prosecution also brings China’s human rights record into focus again.

There has been much international pressure over the case of Mr Liu, and his detention highlights the ongoing strengthening of China’s internal security forces and on increased controls on critics of the government.

His lawyer, Shang Baojun, said police in Beijing had passed his case on to prosecutors and he would face charges of “subversion of state power”, which is the charge usually levied against dissidents in China and one which almost inevitably leads to a jail sentence.

The charges appear to relate to his authorship of the petition campaign and to a series of essays he published online.

Mr Liu (53) was detained on December 8th, 2008, after co-authoring Charter 08, a petition calling for legal and political reform. He was held for six months and then charged with “suspicion of subversion of state power” in order to keep him under arrest.

Charter 08 is the closest thing to a pro-democracy movement that China has seen for years, with frank calls for a constitution guaranteeing human rights, the open election of public officials, and freedom of religion and expression.

Mr Liu was one of its chief architects and since his detention international writers such as Salman Rushdie, Nadine Gordimer and Wole Soyinka have called for his release.

He spent nearly two years in prison for his role in supporting the students on Tiananmen Square in 1989. He also prevented more bloodshed by successfully negotiating with the army the evacuation of the last remaining students on the square in the early morning of June 4th.

The text of Charter 08 included a direct reference to the events of that time as an example of the “long trail of human rights disasters” caused by the Communist Party’s monopoly on power. Since its publication, about 10,000 people have signed the document.

Since he was jailed in 1989, he has spent most of his time either directly in jail or under close monitoring by security officials. He has remained a constant irritant to the central government in Beijing for his calls for greater democracy in China.

In interviews this week to mark the anniversary of his detention, his wife Liu Xia said she despaired of ever seeing her husband again.