In response to:

China's Charter 08 from the January 15, 2009 issue

To the Editors:

Liu Xiaobo, a prominent signer of Charter 08, a statement by Chinese citizens about constitutional rights and democracy [published in the NYR, January 15], was arrested on June 24, 2009, on charges of “inciting subversion of state power.” Within days, more than one hundred fellow signers of the charter issued an open statement of solidarity with Liu, which is printed below.

In addition, Mo Shaoping, one of China’s most distinguished human rights lawyers—and himself a signer of Charter 08—has written a letter in which he sets forth the tortuous course of his efforts to defend Liu.* Mo’s letter delineates the ways in which Chinese police have themselves violated Chinese law: Liu was originally detained on December 8, 2008, on the authority of a document on which the item “suspected of the crime of _________” was, illegally, left blank; he was then held under “residential surveillance” but, illegally, not at his residence and with no access to his family or lawyers. When the maximum period of six months allowed by Chinese law for “residential surveillance” had expired, he continued to be held, illegally, without charge; when formal charges were announced two weeks later, the police told Mo, illegally, that he could not defend Liu because he, Mo, had also signed Charter 08. Mo notes that Charter 08 expresses the same values that are present in the United Nations Charter, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in China’s own constitution. He writes that “to hold that the signing of Charter 08 is criminal behavior is preposterous.”

Liu Xiaobo has yet to be sentenced, but “inciting subversion of state power” carries a maximum prison term of up to fifteen years. Mo Shaoping estimates that the authorities’ aim in charging Liu is to intimidate other critics of the regime. “If they have their way,” Mo writes, “Liu will be converted from a champion of Charter 08 into an instrument of its repression.” But Mo does not believe that the intimidation will work, and the open letter below suggests that he may be right about that.

Zhang Zuhua
Coordinator Charter 08