HONG KONG—Authorities in Beijing are still holding writer Liu Xiaobo, one of the signatories to a document published online earlier this week that called for substantial reforms to China's one-party system.
Mo Shaoping, a lawyer hired by Liu's wife Liu Xia and himself a signatory to Charter 08, said he feared police were preparing to pursue a criminal case against the writer, probably for subversion.
"The longest the police are allowed to detain someone under criminal detention is 37 days," Mo said. "If the case isn't approved by the state prosecutor, then they have to release him after 37 days. If the state prosecutor approves his arrest, then they can continue to hold Liu Xiaobo."
Mo said he feared Liu would be charged not with his involvement in Charter 08, but with "subversion of state power," which can result in lengthy prison terms.
"Speaking as a lawyer, I think that there is no basis to charge him with this," Mo said. "There was nothing unconstitutional in the proposals set out in Charter 08. He hasn't even done anything to go against the notion of a 'harmonious society' set out by China's leaders."
"If they really intend to pursue a criminal prosecution against Liu Xiaobo, I think that they will go back over every article he has written in the last few years with a fine-tooth comb, and use that as a basis with which to press criminal charges," Mo said.
Call for democratic reform
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.
"Among the great nations of the world, China, alone, still clings to an authoritarian political way of life," said the Charter, published online earlier this week and translated into English by California-Riverside East Asian Studies Professor Perry Link.
"As a result, it has caused an unbroken chain of human rights disasters and social crises, held back the development of the Chinese people, and hindered the progress of human civilization."
It calls for a genuine use of the Constitution and institutions that uphold the rule of law, democratic reforms, and human rights, warning of disaster amid growing social tensions if change is not implemented soon.
Several of the document's signatories were detained, their homes searched, or they were questioned and placed under surveillance even before it had been published online.
Among them were constitutional scholar Zhang Zuhua and Liu Xiaobo. Deputy chairman of the writers' group Independent Chinese PEN Jiang Qisheng was interrogated by police for two hours after he signed Charter 08.
He said Hangzhou-based scholar Wen Kejian had also been questioned. The Beijing home of writer Yu Jie, who is currently in the United States, was also surrounded by police, around the time that the Charter was published.
'Challenge' to Constitution
Former top Communist Party aide Bao Tong, who signed the Charter calling himself "A Citizen," challenged the Chinese government to find anything illegal in it.
"Would the powers-that-be please tell 1.3 billion people why freedom is a crime, why human rights, why equality, or republicanism, and what is criminal about democracy and the rule of law under the Constitution?" Bao wrote in an essay penned from his Beijing home, where he has been under house arrest since coming out of prison in the wake of the 1989 pro-democracy movement.
Bao said of the detentions, interrogations and searches that followed the signing of the Charter:
"One might say that these actions are a challenge to Chinese citizens, but it would be better to say that they are a challenge to the Republic and to its Constitution."
Liu Xiaobo's wife, Liu Xia, meanwhile said she had still received no formal news about her husband's fate.
"They are supposed to issue me with a formal notification of his detention, and of the charges against him, and of his whereabouts, within 24 hours of taking him away," she said.
"The thing that most concerns me right now is that I don't know his location, so I don't know where to take clean clothes to him."
Original reporting in Mandarin by Wen Jian and in Cantonese by Grace Kei Lai-see. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.