In a dangerous move, police finally ask prosecutors to charge famous dissident Liu Xiaobo

Published on 10 December 2009

Reporters Without Borders completely rejects the charge of “subverting state authority” which the Chinese police have asked the prosecutor’s office to bring against Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), a famous writer and free speech activist who has been held for the past year without being charged.

Liu’s lawyer announced yesterday that the police had finally sent the case to the prosecutor’s office recommending a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Liu was arrested in December 2008 for posting articles online and helping to draft Charter 08, a call for democratic reform.

“Once again, the Chinese authorities have no scruples about bringing baseless charges,” Reporters Without Borders said. “But no one is fooled. Liu is going to be prosecuted for practising and defending free expression. By taking him to court, the security forces are trying to intimidate China’s intellectuals and Charter 08’s many signatories by making it clear they will tolerate no debate about the country’s future.”

The press freedom organisation added: “The national and international pressure for Liu’s release must not let up. The fact that he has been held for more than a year without being charged shows that the regime is split on what to do about this moderate intellectual, who is widely respected in China and abroad. His prosecution – and the debate it will inevitably provoke – should show the authorities they made a mistake when they decided to detain him.”

Inspired by Charter 77, the charter circulated by Czechoslovak dissidents in 1977, Charter 08 was released on 8 December 2008, two days before the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Originally signed by some 300 intellectuals and human rights activists, it now has more than 10,000 signatures.

A former University of Beijing philosophy professor and winner of the Reporters Without Borders press freedom prize in 2004, Liu is committed to the idea that the Chinese media will one day be able to operate as a real fourth estate and stand up to the omnipotent Communist Party.

Examples of some of Liu’s statements about freedom of expression:

- In an interview publish on Times Online in April, Lieu said: “The Internet is God’s present to China. It is the best tool for the Chinese people in their project to cast off slavery and strive for freedom (…) The Internet has brought about the awakening of ideas among the Chinese. This worries the government, which has placed great importance on blocking the Internet to exert ideological control (…) The scandals that are censored in the traditional media are disseminated through the Internet. The government now has to release information and officials may have to publicly apologise.”

In a message posted on the website of the PEN American Centre in February 2006, Liu said: “We, writers, who are writing in mainland China, who are writing in the Chinese language, are often called dissident writers by others (...) We will not yield to the pressure (…) we will maintain the spirit of the freedom of writing. I want to make an appeal again to writers throughout the world, to continue to pay attention to Chinese writers and their conditions of writing and thus help them to obtain their freedom of writing.”

- A passage from the “Appeal by 100 intellectuals against the closure of Century China”, which was published in July 2006 and which included Liu among its signatories: “The Chinese cyber-world today is a world that has gradually made us understand the tactic known as ‘perseverance in compromise and compromise in perseverance.’ The more we understand the values of freedom of expression and thought, the more we realise that promoting free expression is not enough in the present political environment. We must also explain the civil and political rights that are guaranteed by our constitution, carry out research about them and fight for them to be respected. While we fight against the existing social system, we must also make compromises and work within it. Our goal is to win more space for free expression and, bit by bit, to promote social progress.”

- In an article for Reporters Without Borders in March 2004, Liu wrote: “The electronic media within China and abroad help to break through the censorship imposed by the Chinese Communist Party (…) Even if the Party decrees increasingly severe laws against the Internet and the technologies of control continue to improve (…) in this interplay of prohibition, response and further prohibition, the people’s space for expression is growing millimetre by millimetre. The more the people advance, the more the authorities retreat. The time is not far when the frontier of censorship may be crossed and the people will publicly demand free expression.”

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