Liu Xiaobo, a leading dissident who mobilized hundreds of Chinese thinkers and writers in calling for democratic reform, has been arrested. Police raided his Beijing home late on Monday a few hours before the release of the “08 Charter”, a manifesto calling on the ruling Communist Party to hold free elections and grant greater freedom of expression. The document’s publication was scheduled to coincide with tomorrow’s 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The 303 signatories propose 19 measures to improve human rights in China, including an independent legal system, freedom of association and an end to single-party rule. The initiative is a conscious throw-back to the Charter 77 declaration by Czechoslovakian dissidents which demanded that the Communist authorities ratify United Nations human rights conventions, and respect the 1975 Helsinki Accords’ human rights obligations.
“All kinds of social conflicts have constantly accumulated, and feelings of discontent have risen consistently,” the 08 Charter states. “The current system has become backward to the point that change cannot be avoided.” China remained the only big power still to retain an authoritarian system that so infringes human rights, it said.
The ’08 Charter is significant because it convenes diverse, prominent figures around a common agenda, said Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch. “The Chinese government really insists that human rights concerns are an external agenda imposed by Western countries and Western governments, but this gives the lie to this thesis,” he said.
Charter 08 was signed not only by dissidents and intellectuals but also by officials and rural leaders, notes the Chinese Human Rights Defenders network. The signatories will form an informal and open group to promote democratization and human rights, it reports.