By John Kusumi
The Chinese government is making a big issue out of Charter 08. The method by which the regime of the Communist Party is escalating Charter 08 is by once again showing their true colors as communists, dictators, tyrants and thugs — demonstrating their rule by arbitrary fiat, in contravention of norms and standards of international human rights such as those in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights — to which the Chinese government is a signatory. They have sentenced the famous dissident Liu Xiaobo, known as a co-author of Charter 08, to spend the next 11 years in prison.
The China Support Network condemns this flagrant outrage; calls for the PRC/CCP government to release Liu Xiaobo; calls upon the U.S. State Department and the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama to intervene and to apply pressure to the Chinese government for the purpose of securing the release of Liu Xiaobo; and, CSN calls upon the Chinese people to implement the recommendations of Charter 08. Don’t wait for Liu to be free. Don’t wait for the Communist Party to move. Don’t wait for the American government to move. Charter 08 must be heeded now, and implemented beginning at once.
For researchers who will write about the Chinese democracy movement, the sentence for Liu Xiaobo is an historic turn in the story. And now, the Chinese government has clearly pointed out that which they would suppress: Charter 08. The abuse of Liu Xiaobo is a clear indicator that the CCP fears Charter 08 and its influence upon society.
Liu Xiaobo became prominent as a leader in Tiananmen Square’s uprising of 1989, for which he became a political prisoner (twice previously). He has been prominently visible as a writer, an intellectual, and a leading dissident voice. And one year ago, he was involved in the preparation of Charter 08, a document whose release was timed to coincide with International Human Rights Day on December 10, 2008.
As described by the group, Human Rights In China,
“Charter 08 is an open appeal to Chinese authorities to promote legal reform and political democracy and guarantee human rights. It was issued by 303 Chinese individuals from all walks of life, including writers, scholars, lawyers, journalists, workers, peasants, entrepreneurs, and retired Party officials, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It sets forth 19 specific recommendations, including constitutional reform; separation of administrative, legislative and judicial powers; freedom of association, expression, and religion; and civic education based on universal values and civil rights.”
Charter 08 started with 303 co-signers, and later attracted thousands of signers as an internet petitiion. A Facebook group for Charter 08 has 1,251 members. On Twitter, @freeliuxiaobo has 397 followers.
Two notable features of Charter 08 are (1.) its call for the end of one-party rule — the monopoly on power currently held by the Chinese Communist Party; and (2.) it follows the pattern of Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia. Charter 77 was an effort by anti-communist dissidents in Czechoslovakia to change their country during a time when it was still dominated by Soviet Communism. Due to the first aspect, Charter 08 directly challenges Communist Party rule in China; and, due to the second aspect, Charter 08 is not just a document; it’s a movement.
Liu’s current case began when authorities arrested him two days before the release of Charter 08, on December 8, 2008. His formal arrest was announced on June 23, 2009. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the China Support Network unanimously condemned the arrest and detention of Liu Xiaobo, as did governments of the US, EU, and Canada. On Twitter, @freeliuxiaobo has 397 followers. His formal indictment was rendered on December 10, 2009, International Human Rights Day.
As the trial approached, Charter 08 signatories began to appeal on the internet, with a petition saying, “We Are Willing to Share Responsibility with Liu Xiaobo.” Ding Zilin of the Tiananmen Mothers urged fellow signers of Charter 08 to gather outside the court “to be part of the trial.” Ding Zilin — who lost her 17 year old son in 1989’s crackdown against the Chinese democracy movement — has maintained prominence by issuing very statesman-like appeals for justice on each anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for the Chinese government to have dialogue with the Tiananmen Mothers.
In addition, Bao Tong, a former top Communist Party official who also signed Charter 08, warned that a guilty verdict “will be nothing other than a stripping away of citizens’ right to freedom of expression, publication, association, protest, and demonstration. It will mean nothing less than an announcement that the Constitution is null and void.”
On Wednesday, December 23, 2009, the two hour trial was held behind closed doors at the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court. Authorities prevented many people from entering the courtroom to attend the trial: Liu Xia, the wife of Liu Xiaobo, was kept out, as were about one dozen diplomats from the US, Europe, and Canada; and, about two dozen Charter 08 signers who had answered the call of Ding Zilin to attend the trial; and, some number of journalists. No verdict, nor sentence, was announced on Wednesday.
The verdict and sentence were then announced on Friday, December 25, 2009, Christmas Day. For “incitement to subvert state power,” Liu Xiaobo is sentenced to spend 11 years in prison. Liu will turn 54 years old on December 28, 2009. The sentence suggests that Liu may be 65 years old when next he has his freedom, although this trial really indicates that “freedom” does not exist for Chinese citizens, even when outside the walls of a prison.
As a matter of analysis, we should note that Charter 08 is an entirely non-violent effort to shine a light on solutions for Chinese society. In fact, the Chinese democracy movement has both “hardline” and “moderate” wings. Perhaps the difference between the two camps is the difference between revolution and evolution. Charter 08 called for a significant evolution in the Chinese polity and political structures. Some in the hardline wing criticized Charter 08 for being “way too moderate.”
Perhaps the hardliners feel, “never mind a ‘significant evolution,’ let’s have a significant revolution.” And now, the case of Liu Xiaobo demonstrates the oppression and the arbitrary rule-by-fiat which is practiced by the Chinese government. The case is an excellent example of the reason why hardline Chinese dissidents feel as they do — and why they say “tuidang” (Quit the Party) and why they established the China Interim Government to be a dissident group waiting in the wings.
Once again, the Chinese government is testing the outer limits of how much abuse the people will tolerate. And, no matter whether they hail from the moderate wing or the hardline wing, Chinese dissidents will be united in calling for the freedom of Liu Xiaobo.