Connect to share and comment

China formally charges democracy activist

In a closely-watched case, Liu Xiaobo faces a 15-year jail sentence for "inciting subversion."

A demonstrator holds a picture of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo during a protest, urging Nobel peace prize recipient U.S. President Barack Obama to demand the Chinese government to release all dissidents, outside the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong, Oct. 23, 2009. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Chinese prosecutors have formally charged democracy activist Liu Xiaobo with "inciting subversion," a year after he co-authored a call for sweeping political change in China.

The lawyer, Shang Baojun, said by phone that he received the prosecution papers Friday, and that Liu had been formally charged the day before. The lawyer expects a trial anytime after Dec. 20, and likely lasting only a half-day.

Liu could get up to 15 years jail time, with a five- to 15-year sentence "very likely," his lawyer said.

"Charter 08" is a blueprint for political reform in China (see text in English). It calls for an end to the Chinese Communist Party's monopoly on power, multiparty elections, rule of law and the separation of powers.

Upon its release on the internet a year ago, Liu was taken into custody. He has been in detention since then — without charge, until Thursday.

In the past, China has released jailed activists under international pressure. Rights groups were hoping Beijing might do the same for Liu Xiaobo before or after President Obama's visit.

"A lot of people have great hopes for Obama as a person who really believes in human rights," said Wang Songlian, a research coordinator with Chinese Human Rights Defenders. "And a lot of people were hoping that he would come out stronger and raise Liu Xiaobo's name publicly. Unfortunately that didn't happen, and that was very disappointing."

Wang said that for many Chinese activists, Obama's public silence on the issue had let to speculation on a shift in "power dynamics" between the U.S. and China.

"We're afraid that might be true that the U.S. is dependent on China in the financial crisis and feels that it needs to be kinder to China, and not criticize," said Wang. "But we believe it's in the interests of both the U.S. and the Chinese people that the U.S. come out strongly with what it believes, refer specially to China's human rights issues, and not avoid sensitive topics."

While Obama talked in general terms about U.S. values during his China visit, he didn't publicly address China's poor human rights record, she said. That may be an intentional effort to downplay criticism and focus on areas of cooperation, said Wang. But if so, she said, the approach is misguided.

"We think China's lack of transparency on human rights issues has implications on all kinds of topics — pollution targets, carbon dioxide targets, trade — that the U.S. wants to work with China on," said Wang. "You can't divorce these things."