Updated Dec. 11, 2:16 p.m.
HONG KONG—Authorities in the Chinese capital have detained at least two veteran dissidents following the release of a public document calling for political reforms on the eve of World Human Rights Day.
Beijing-based writer Liu Xiaobo and fellow activist Zhang Zuhua were detained and their homes searched ahead of the publication online of "Charter 08," which calls for freedom of expression and association, free elections, and the removal of the ruling Communist Party from control of the armed forces.
"On the summons document the police showed me, the charge against me was suspected subversion, mainly for my role in drafting and collecting signatures for Charter 08," Zhang said.
It's not guaranteed that economic progress will bring human rights progress in its wake."
Activist Huang Jianping
More than 300 Chinese dissidents, activists, and former officials signed Charter 08. These included legal experts Yu Haocheng and Zhang Sizhi, economist Mao Yushi, veteran Communist official and senior political scientist Du Guang, and former deputy chief of the official Xinhua news agency Li Pu.
Bao Tong, former aide to the late ousted Communist party chief Zhao Ziyang, and Ding Zilin, organizer of the Tiananmen Mothers campaign group, were also listed as signatories.
Tiananmen anniversary fears
"Police said they had received information on the Charter, which included many influential signatories, believing it might have a far-reaching impact and might affect developments next year during the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown," Zhang said.
"Therefore, they acted against me and Liu Xiaobo in hopes of securing our withdrawal from signing and promoting the Charter. I told the police that while I was just partly involved in the drafting, I completely agree with its principles and contents," Zhang added.
Liu's wife, Liu Xia, said a police search of the couple's home continued until Tuesday.
"Police took him away for detention, but they didn't reveal the charges," Liu Xia said. "They have taken away three computers, a cellphone, some books, and some printouts. They let me check out the confiscated stuff and asked if I knew anything about Charter 08."
Police also questioned dissidents Jiang Qisheng in Beijing and Zhao Dagong in Shenzhen on the subject of the Charter.
"I think the authorities overreacted to the appeal, but they're worried about wider support from the people, so they acted preemptively," Jiang said.
Zhao said: "Detaining Liu Xiaobo is really unwise, as the Charter is full of constructive suggestions and is aimed at getting support from within the Communist Party."
China has acknowledged that problems remain in the development of human rights, but the government says it pays close attention to the issue.
In an interview with Xinhua on Tuesday, top government spokesman Wang Chen said China had put human rights high on the agenda for national development.
But Huang Jianping, a spokesman for the grassroots activist group Rights Movement, called for the immediate release of jailed cyber-dissident Huang Qi and AIDS activist Hu Jia to mark World Human Rights Day.
"It's not guaranteed that economic progress will bring human rights progress in its wake," Huang Jianping said.
"In recent years we've had rising property prices and strong economic growth, but we've also seen violent evictions and land disputes that result in bloodshed among ordinary people. A really shocking number of people have fallen victim to this, especially in rural communities."
In Washington, the U..S. State Department said Thursday it was "deeply concerned" by reports that Chinese rights activists were arrested before the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"The United States is deeply concerned by reports that Chinese citizens have been detained, interrogated and harassed as they prepared to commemorate" the event on Wednesday, the department's spokesman Sean McCormack said.
"We are particularly concerned about the well being of Liu Xiaobo, a prominent dissident writer, who remains in the custody of authorities," he said in a statement.
"We call on the government of China to release Liu Xiaobo and cease harassment of all Chinese citizens who peacefully express their desire for internationally-recognized fundamental freedoms," McCormack said.
Lawyer Mo Shaoping said the development of China's legal system was still incomplete.
"Freedom of speech is among the basic human rights, but in 2008 there were several cases in which I worked as lawyer about articles published online," Mo said.
"Some of [those charged] were finally convicted of subversion," he said, adding that state-sponsored violence was also common. "China’s law prohibits torture, but some of my clients reported the problem," he said.
Liu Sisi, research fellow at the rights group Amnesty International, cited little change in China’s control over the media or in its rights crackdown, arbitrary detentions, and torture, despite promises Beijing made linked to its hosting of the Olympics.
"In applying to host the Olympics, China promised to improve its rights records. But based on what we saw before and during the Games, there was still action against rights activists, and petitioners were blocked from going to Beijing with complaints," Liu Sisi said.
"In fact the Olympics worsened China’s rights record."
The Washington-based nonprofit group WorldPublicOpinion.org meanwhile reported Wednesday that a 25-country poll found widespread support of principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"Majorities or pluralities in all nations polled...support the idea that the UN should make efforts to promote the human rights established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," it said. "In nearly all nations, majorities (on average 65 percent) favor the UN making even greater efforts and a similar number favor the idea of giving the UN power to go into countries to investigate human rights abuses."
China has majorities higher than the world average saying media should be free to publish without government control, people should be free to read anything on the Internet, and the Chinese media should have more freedom, the study found.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao and in Cantonese by Ho Shan. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and Chen Ping. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.