China Questions Lawyers Over Charter

In the latest in a string of detentions across China, three Beijing-based lawyers are taken in for questioning after they sign a document online calling for political reforms.
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Liu Xiaobo, in an undated photo.
Liu Xiaobo, in an undated photo.

HONG KONGAuthorities in the Chinese capital have questioned three lawyers and are still holding writer Liu Xiaobo over their involvement with a document calling for human rights and political change in China.

Lawyers Jiang Tianyong, Tang Jitian, and Li Xiongbin were taken in for questioning by police on Wednesday, all of them in connection with Charter 08, a document published online last month that called for freedom of expression and association, open competitive elections, and the stripping away of Communist Party control of the military.

"They asked me where I first learned of Charter 08," Jiang Tianyong said after his release. "I said it was on the Internet and that I signed it online, too. I gave them a voluntary explanation of my reasons for signing."

"I told them that I totally support and recognize Charter 08. I also told them I supported Liu Xiaobo and [fellow activist] Zhang Zuhua," Jiang added.

Hundreds of dissidents, activists, and former officials called for dramatic democratic reforms to China 's one-party state in the Charter, which was first published with the names of 303 Chinese citizens as signatories.

Activists now say more than 7,200 signatures have been gathered in support of the Charter, sparking widespread detentions and interrogations of signatories.

Charges not yet announced

Beijing-based writer Liu Xiaobo, who co-authored the Charter, and other rights activists were detained by police earlier this month over the manifesto. The European Union has expressed "deep concern" over the detentions.

Liu is being held at an unknown location in the suburbs of Beijing and has yet to be charged, although there are reports he will be charged under national security legislation, which typically carries lengthy jail sentences.

But Liu's lawyer Mo Shaoping was unable to confirm or deny the reports.

"I haven't heard anything about this. No one has said this to me," Mo said, who confirmed he still officially represents Liu.

Charter signatory and Independent China PEN member Jiang Qisheng said no official statement had yet been given regarding charges against Liu.

"As I judge it, this only a possibility," Jiang said. "This is one of the charges that comes under the heading of 'damaging national security.' I was with Liu Xia yesterday afternoon, and the authorities had still not specified on what suspected charges Liu Xiaobo was being detained, let alone produced any formal documentation on the subject."

Liu has been held under police surveillance for a month. So far, there has been no communication from the authorities to his family or the outside world about his case.

National security police

Elsewhere in China, Xian-based signatory Yang Hai was taken in for questioning Wednesday, following the interrogation of Shaanxi-based lawyer Zhang Jiankang.

National security police took Yang to a hotel in Xian, where he was questioned in turn by eight or nine officers beginning at noon and ending at 6 p.m., all in connection with Charter 08.

"In the end I told them that it was meaningless to talk about Charter 08 out of the context of the document itself," Yang said Thursday.

"If there was a problem with the text, then we [signatories] would bear responsibility as citizens."

"The basic principles of the Charter are open, rational, legal, and nonviolent," Yang said. "Such principles would benefit the establishment of a harmonious society. I told them that I knew nothing of anyone else's involvement, so there was no point in their coming at this from all angles, that I didn't know anything, and that I would bear responsibility for my own actions."

More than 7,200 people had signed Charter 08 as of Thursday, according to the group of activists administering it online.

'Hacker attack'

The Charter 08 Signatories' Group said it had been bombarded with spam e-mail in recent days, making the work of counting genuine signatures take much longer.

Hackers had also produced fake mailboxes, they said, calling on any would-be signatories to be careful not to be sidetracked into fake petitions.

Liu Xiaobo was taken away by police Dec. 8, a day before the publication of the Charter, and held under a form of house arrest called "residential surveillance."

But his lawyer, Mo Shaoping, said police had violated legal procedure by removing him from his home.

Chinese law permits the imposition of residential surveillance for up to six months, although that period can be renewed.

Liu Xiaobo, 53, is a former university professor who spent 20 months in jail for joining the 1989 student-led protests in Tiananmen Square.

In his writings, most published only on the Internet, Liu has strongly called for civil rights and political reform, making him subject to routine harassment by the authorities.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Xin Yu and in Cantonese by Hai Nan. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.





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