More than 1,000 people have signed an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping calling for better protection of citizens' rights under the law, and for a nationwide system for monitoring human rights abuses, a veteran dissident said on Wednesday.
The letter, titled "Stability is Founded on Rights Protection," called on Xi to allow rights groups to register legally, to set up a human rights ministry, and to enact laws guaranteeing the right to freedom of speech, a free press, and the right to free association and demonstration.
The letter, which had garnered more than 1,200 signatures by Wednesday morning, also called for a "strike hard" campaign against human rights violators, and a collaboration mechanism for nongovernment groups to work with officials on human rights issues.
"Of course, we hope that China will ultimately achieve government by constitution, but this is very hard for a country like China to achieve, so there is a process," Wuhan-based dissident Qin Yongmin, a co-founder of the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP) who penned the letter, told RFA.
Qin, 57, served a lengthy jail term for subversion after he helped found the CDP in 1998, and recently called on the new generation of leaders under Xi to enter into "peaceful dialogue" with Chinese citizens, or risk the fall of the regime in a manner similar to that of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
He said there currently exist no official bodies in China charged with the protection of human rights. And while nongovernment rights groups exist, they are, strictly speaking, illegal.
Shandong-based rights lawyer Li Xiangyang said he had signed the letter, even though he suspected it would have little effect.
"We are citizens living under a dictatorial system," Qin said. "We don't have the opportunity to oppose the government with guns and knives, so all we can do is demand a dialogue."
"I guess it's our form of protest," he said.
Li and Qin both said that rights violations have continued apace in recent weeks, citing large numbers of detentions of ordinary citizens last year, as well as the "suicide" death of Xue Fushun, father of prominent Shandong activist Xue Mingkai, in police custody last week, which many regard as suspicious.
Qin's letter laid the blame for an increase in rights violations firmly at the door of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's political and legal affairs committee, which until November 2012 was run by hard-line security chief Zhou Yongkang.
Some of Zhou's family and close allies are currently under investigation by the party's disciplinary agency, sparking widespread speculation that he is himself the subject of a behind-the-scenes probe and political purge.
"[Zhou's tenure] saw large numbers of suspicious deaths and miscarriages of justice," Qin's letter said.
"The rights of Chinese citizens to a livelihood, property, freedom of expression, and appeal [were all subject to] wanton violations."
Last December, Qin was briefly detained en route to Beijing to apply to register his "China Human Rights Watch" group with the civil affairs ministry in Beijing.
Qin was initially sentenced to eight years in prison for "counterrevolutionary propaganda and subversion" in the wake of China's Democracy Wall movement in 1981.
A contemporary of exiled dissident Wei Jingsheng, Qin served a further two years' "re-education through labor" in 1993 after he penned a controversial document titled "Peace Charter."
By 1998, Qin was the editor of the China Human Rights Observer newsletter, and was one of a number of political activists who attempted to register the CDP.
Aside from Qin, Hangzhou-based CDP founder Wang Youcai and Beijing-based Xu Wenli received 11-year and 13-year jail terms respectively for being linked to the opposition party. Both were later exiled to the United States on medical parole.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.