Liu Xiaobo Accused of Major Crime for Drafting Charter 08

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Human Rights Day in China: Liu Xiaobo Accused of “Major Crime” for Drafting Charter 08

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, December 9, 2009) – According to documents submitted by the Beijing Public Security Bureau (PSB) to the Beijing Municipal Procuratorate at the conclusion of the PSB’s investigation, detained activist and intellectual Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) should be charged with “inciting subversion of state power” because he “drafted Charter 08 together with others, which is a major crime.” This is the first time Chinese authorities have officially labelled the drafting of this political manifesto a “major crime.” Today marks the one-year anniversary of the publication of Charter 08, and a number of activists have been harassed by police and warned against organizing activities to mark the occasion.

“The choice of the phrase ‘major crime’ probably reflects the opinion of the top leaders, and suggests they have reached a decision on how to respond to Charter 08. Now that the act of drafting Charter 08 has been decreed a ‘major crime,’ we are concerned that more people may face arrest for their roles as drafters and signatories of Charter 08,” said Chen Ming, an activist closely following the case.

Liu’s case was transferred to the procuratorate on December 8. The next step is for the procuratorate to review Liu’s case and decide whether or not to initiate a prosecution, a procedure that can last as long as six and a half months. In addition to mentioning Charter 08, the police recommendation for prosecution also cited six articles published by Liu in recent years.

The crime of “inciting subversion of state power” is stipulated under Article 105(2) of the Chinese Criminal Code. If convicted, Liu faces a maximum of fifteen years of fixed-term imprisonment. In recent years, activists convicted of “inciting subversion” have usually been sentenced to less than five years of imprisonment. However, the same article says that those “who commit major crimes shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than five years.”

In recent days, police targeted a number of prominent activists and dissidents, seeking to keep them and Charter 08 out of the spotlight as the one-year anniversary approached. For example:

  • A police car has been stationed outside of the home of Beijing activist Zhang Zuhua (张祖桦) and police have kept him under surveillance since December 1. Officers from the National Security Unit of the Beijing PSB have warned him not to give interviews, meet with others, or write articles about the anniversary, and threatened to imprison him if he does not comply.
  • Wen Kejian (温克坚), a Hangzhou-based rights activist, was prevented from travelling to Beijing in the last week of November and questioned several times by police who told him that the days surrounding the anniversary were “sensitive” and he was not allowed to travel.
  • Xi’an human rights lawyer and Charter 08 signatory Zhang Jiankang (张鉴康) was summoned by National Security police on December 9 and interrogated for three hours about an event he helped organize on December 6 to commemorate the anniversary.
  • On the afternoon of December 7, officials from the National Security Unit under the Hangzhou PSB arrived at the home of dissident Zhu Yufu (朱虞夫) and announced he was being placed under residential surveillance. Zhu is only allowed to leave his home if escorted by police.
  • Zhejiang human rights lawyer Zhuang Daohe (庄道鹤) was barred from leaving the mainland for Hong Kong by border guards at Shenzhen’s Luohu border crossing on December 5. Officials did not give Zhuang a reason for the action, though it is suspected to be related to the anniversary.
  • Chengdu democracy activist Chen Yunfei (陈云飞) was taken away from his home by police on the afternoon of December 9. His current whereabouts are unknown.
  • Members of the Guizhou Human Rights Forum, a loose circle of activists who meet often to discuss human rights and distribute educational materials, have been under heavy pressure from local authorities seeking to stop them from carrying out planned activities to mark both the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10 and the release of Charter 08 on December 9. Police stationed at a Guiyang Park prevented Forum members from holding a meeting on December 6, and activists Chen Xi (陈西), Liao Shuangyuan (廖双元) and Wu Yuqin (吴玉琴) have all been briefly detained and interrogated in recent weeks.

Charter 08 is a manifesto calling for bold reforms promoting democracy and human rights in China. It was published on December 9, 2008, one day after Liu Xiaobo’s detention. It initially had over 303 signatories and now has more than 10,000, about 80% of whom live in mainland China. While Liu remains the only Chinese citizen detained for his involvement with Charter 08, the government has interrogated, harassed, and threatened over one hundred Charter 08 signatories in the past year, some on multiple occasions. Computers and personal property confiscated by police from the homes of activists Zhang Zuhua, Wang Debang (王德邦), and others have yet to be returned, and the bank accounts of some activists also remain frozen.

“The Chinese authorities have made a mockery of International Human Rights Day by accusing the drafters of this manifesto defending human rights of committing a ‘serious crime’ and taking one step further in criminally prosecuting Liu Xiaobo. It is critical that the international community speaks up now and expresses serious concerns for Mr. Liu and other Chinese citizens who are being persecuted for expressing their aspirations for rights and democracy,” said Renee Xia, CHRD’s International Director.


CHRD demands the immediate release of Liu Xiaobo.

The Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau must drop its proposal to prosecute Liu Xiaobo for exercising his freedom of expression by participating in the drafting of Charter 08 and writing political commentary articles.

Chinese authorities must end the on-going harassment and intimidation of other organizers and signatories of Charter 08, returning illegally-confiscated personal belongings, and hold those responsible for the harassment legally accountable.

Liu Xiaobo has been detained for over one year, without a trial, solely for the peaceful activities of expressing his opinions and organizing fellow citizens to voice their common concerns and ideas regarding the promotion of human rights and democracy. Liu’s detention violates his rights to freedom of expression and association enshrined in Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution and also guaranteed in Articles 19 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which China has signed (though not ratified). His detention is arbitrary, based on charges that he violated a vague law commonly used to prosecute free speech as act of “inciting subversion against State Power,” Article 105 of the Chinese Criminal Code.

For more information, please see:

“As Charter 08 Anniversary Nears, Liu Xiaobo Languishes Behind Bars without Trial,” December 3, 2009,

“Liu Xiaobo Formally Arrested for ‘Inciting Subversion of State Power,’” June 24, 2009,

“Chinese Government Responds with a Crackdown on Activists for Commemorating 60th Anniversary of UDHR,” December 10, 2008,

“’Inciting Subversion of State Power’: A Legal Tool for Prosecuting Free Speech in China,” January 8, 2008,

Media Contacts:

Renee Xia, International Director (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 6937 or +1 301 547 9286

Jiang Yingying, Researcher (English and Mandarin), +852 8170 0237

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