China's Constitution 'On Trial'

A former top official, now a veteran dissident, speaks out on the eve of a closely watched trial.

2009.12.23
zhao-bao-305.jpg Bao Tong, 76, served as a top aide to late Chinese leader Zhao Ziyang, who was purged for sympathizing with 1989 democracy protesters. Bao has spent most of the past 20 years in jail or under house arrest in Beijing.
AFP

HONG KONG—A former top Communist Party official has called on China's ruling Communist Party to accept calls for political reform enshrined in the controversial Charter 08 document, while a Beijing court tried one of the Charter's leading authors for subversion.

"If they tell the courts to pronounce Charter 08 guilty, then this will be nothing other than a stripping away of citizens' right to freedom of expression, publication, association, protest, and demonstration," Bao Tong, former top political aide to ousted late Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang, said.

"It will mean nothing less than an announcement that the Constitution is null and void," wrote Bao from his Beijing home, where he has been held under house arrest since the end of a seven-year prison sentence in the wake of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square.

Bao's essay came on the eve of the trial of Liu Xiaobo, credited as one of the chief architects of Charter 08, which called for freedom of expression and association, free elections, and the removal of the ruling Communist Party from control of the armed forces.

Stiff jail term possible

Supporters and diplomats barred from attending crowded around the Beijing Intermediate People's Court Wednesday while the trial took place behind closed doors, with a verdict expected Friday. Even Liu's wife, Liu Xia, was denied a permit to attend.

If found guilty, Liu could face a jail term of up to 15 years.

Bao poured scorn on the charges against Liu.

"To subvert the state would be to remove power from the people and put it elsewhere. Any act that does not have this result cannot be called subversion," wrote Bao, who also signed the Charter last year.

"It is patriotic to defend the sovereignty of the people. All movements that try to do this are patriotic movements," he said.

"It is patriotic to defend the rights of ethnic minorities, or the freedom of religious belief. It is patriotic to expose official corruption in the plunder of land, housing, and natural resources," he added.

He called restrictions on freedom of expression and association in China "arbitrary and monopolistic, and inconsistent with the rule of law."

"Everyone has the right to expression. Chinese people, foreigners, officials, ordinary citizens, should all be allowed to express themselves freely," he wrote in an essay [see link at right] titled "China's Human Rights Situation at the Close of 2009."

'Actions speak'

Any discussion of human rights in China this year would be incomplete without an examination of Charter 08 and, by implication, Liu's trial, he said.

"The most important thing is the outcome of the trial," said Bao. "If the court finds Charter 08 not guilty, then we can be sure that China's leaders have been able to accept criticism gladly ... Actions speak louder than words."

Beijing authorities formally indicted Liu one year after his arrest on Dec. 8, 2008 for helping to draft Charter 08, which rights groups say has been signed by more than 10,000 people, including leading intellectuals, writers, and dissidents.

Liu, 54, has been an outspoken critic of the government since he joined a hunger strike supporting student protesters in 1989, just days before the army crushed the pro-democracy movement centered on Tiananmen Square.

He was later jailed for 20 months and then spent three years in a labor camp during the 1990s.

Original essay in Chinese by Bao Tong. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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