No New Year Celebration for Writers

Chinese authorities have put one writer under house arrest and restricted the freedom of another amid continuing police investigations into Charter 08, a document calling for broad political change.
2009-01-27
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charter08.jpg
Activists rally in support of Charter 08 in front of Consulate-General of China in New York.
Photo credit: Boxun.com

BEIJING--Chinese authorities have put a Beijing-based writer under house arrest and prevented another from returning home to celebrate the traditional Lunar New Year holiday with his family, amid continuing investigations into a document calling for sweeping political reform.

"The police came to see me again," Beijing-based Liu Di, a member of writers' group Independent Chinese PEN and a signatory to Charter 08, which sparked a wave of interrogations and detentions after its publication online in December.

"They were asking about a T-shirt. I told them I had seen a cool T-shirt featuring Charter 08 online, and I forwarded it to the 'Free China' forum," said Liu, who was arrested in November 2002 after she posted several articles on Chinese Internet sites satirizing the government and the Communist Party's failure to protect freedom of expression. She afterward spent a year in prison.

She said the police were national security officers from Beijing's Chaoyang district. "They told me they were putting me under house arrest, and they threatened to detain me in a cell," said Liu, who signs her articles "Stainless Steel Mouse."

Charter 08, signed by more than 300 prominent scholars, writers, and rights activists around the country, called for concerned Chinese citizens to rally to bring about change, citing an increasing loss of control by the ruling Communist Party and heightened hostility between the authorities and ordinary people.

Detentions and searches

It also called for the observance of guarantees made by China's Constitution and for institutions to uphold the rule of law, for democratic reforms, and for human rights, and warned of disaster amid growing social tensions if change is not implemented soon.

Several of the Charter's signatories were detained and their homes searched. Others were questioned and placed under surveillance even before the document had been published online.

Meanwhile, Shenzhen-based Independent Chinese PEN member Zhao Dagong was told that he must stay in the city during the Lunar New Year celebrations instead of going to spend the traditional holiday with his family. "Both my parents are over 80, so I am furious that they aren't letting me return home to see them. But there's nothing I can do," he said.

Zhao, who said there was no one watching his house Monday, said he had been warned not to try leaving Shenzhen.

"If I tried to leave they would probably detain me," he said. "They were very emphatic about this, saying it wasn't an order that had been made in Shenzhen but one that had come down from higher up, so there was nothing they could do about it."

Group 'not political'

Jiang Qisheng, vice-president of Independent Chinese PEN, said the group exists to promote the right of authors to free speech.

"We are not a political organization. We are not in the business of promoting Charter 08," Jiang said.

"Our organization played no part in drafting Charter 08, in collecting signatures, or in distributing the document. We are an independent association of citizens and intellectuals. It appears that the police haven't worked this out yet in spite of having made so many enquiries."

Former top Communist Party aide and Charter signatory Bao Tong, who has been under house arrest at his Beijing home since serving a seven-year jail term in the wake of the military crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy movement, said Charter 08 was a good opportunity for China to sort out its social problems amid burgeoning property disputes and a widening gap between rich and poor.

"The rights that [Charter 08] asserts are as fundamental to existence as wearing clothes, or as food and drink, or as breathing," Bao said in a rare telephone interview.

"This is a very good opportunity for the whole country to unite and solve the problems that its people are facing. Chinese society is full of conflicts and clashes right now, and Charter 08 would be a way to alleviate that pressure."

Original reporting in Mandarin by Xin Yu and Wei Si. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie.