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Top Chinese dissident faces subversion charge

A year after secretly detaining high-profile dissident Liu Xiaobo, police have finally filed a case against him, accusing him of inciting to subvert state power, Liu's lawyer says.
China Detained Dissident
Pro-democracy activists hold pictures of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was arrested after co-writing a manifesto urging civil rights and political reforms, outside the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong on Oct. 23. Kin Cheung / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Liu Xiaobo lobbied to abolish a vaguely worded Chinese law against subversion, but now it appears the high-profile dissident will stand trial for that very crime.

A year after secretly detaining him, police have finally filed a case against Liu, accusing him of inciting to subvert state power, Liu's lawyer said Wednesday.

The evidence against Liu includes six essays he wrote and posted online as well as a bold appeal he co-authored that calls for sweeping democratic reforms, known as Charter 08.

Moves to prosecute him for subversion, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, appear calculated to send a message to anyone considering criticizing government policy, human rights advocates say.

"There is absolutely no doubt that it (prosecuting Liu) sends a signal to all of the intellectuals," said Nicholas Bequelin, Asia researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Lawyer Shang Baojun said a police report delivered to prosecutors on Dec. 1 and given to him Wednesday marked "the end of the investigation phase and the beginning of the prosecution phase" for Liu. Prosecutors now have about a month to examine the report and accompanying evidence and decide whether it is sufficient for a trial.

'Words as crimes'
The vague subversion charge is routinely used in China to imprison dissidents — and abolishing that law is among the 19 reforms advocated in Charter 08, the declaration Liu co-authored.

"We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes," reads one passage in the petition.

The charter also demands a new constitution guaranteeing human rights, the open election of public officials, and freedom of religion and expression. Some 10,000 people have signed it in the past year, though a news blackout and Internet censorship have left most Chinese unaware that it exists.

Liu disappeared a day before Charter 08 was released online last year. Police had taking him into custody, and he was held at a secret location for six months before being formally arrested in June.

Police extended their investigation of Liu three times over the past year — China's legal limit.

Liu is the only person to have been arrested for organizing the appeal, though human rights groups say others who signed the charter across the country have been questioned or put under surveillance by police. Many also have reported being pressured by their employers.

'Canary in the mine'
Bequelin, the Human Rights Watch researcher, said targeting a high-profile figure like Liu is probably also meant as a warning to others.

"Liu Xiaobo is very much the canary in the mine," he said. "What's at stake is the relationship between the Communist Party and intellectuals and the degree to which intellectuals are free to criticize or publish their own ideas.

Others who signed Charter 08 were dismayed by the accusations against him, saying he did nothing wrong by calling for change.

"He hoped society would be better. What's wrong with that?" said Beijing lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, one of the original 303 people who signed the document before it was first released. "He sticks to his belief and his responsibility to society, but instead he has borne the brunt of this crackdown."

Liu's wife, Liu Xia, says she has not seen or spoken to her husband since March, when police arranged a short, supervised meeting for the couple in a Beijing hotel room. She said Wednesday she was "outraged" after reading the three-page investigator's report.

Shang said he hopes to visit Liu in detention on Thursday to discuss his case.