Skip to content Skip to navigation

Independent Scholars Detained: Start of 2009 Crackdown?

December 9, 2008

To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a diverse group of 303 Chinese writers, intellectuals, lawyers, journalists, retired Party officials, workers, peasants, and businessmen have issued an open letter – "Charter 08" – calling for legal reforms, democracy, and protection of human rights in China.

On December 8, 2008, at 11:00 p.m., Beijing public security officers, armed with a criminal detention notice, a subpoena, and search warrants, took away two of the individuals who signed the Charter – Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) and Zhang Zuhua (张祖桦) – ransacked their homes, and confiscated computers, books, and personal belongings. Liu is being criminally detained on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.” Zhang was released after 12 hours of interrogation.

The Charter sets forth 19 specific recommendations, including: constitutional reform; separation of administrative, legislative and judicial powers; freedom of association, expression, and religion; and citizen education that encompasses universal values and civil rights. The recommendations address current reform debates, and promote many rights already recognized in Chinese law and that constitute part of China’s international human rights obligations, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), signed by the Chinese government 10 years ago, still pending ratification.

By detaining these individuals on the eve of the international Human Rights Day, the Chinese government has exposed the emptiness of the rhetoric in its recently announced Human Rights Action Plan, and makes a mockery of the official slogan that people are the foundation [yi ren wei ben 以人为本] of China’s development and of the official claim that “human rights work in China has already achieved historic progress.” This kind of reaction to the legitimate appeals of Chinese citizens to the government sends an unsettling message that a crackdown for next year may be already underway.

The year 2009 will mark several politically sensitive anniversaries: the 20th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 crackdown, the 50th anniversary of the exile of the Dalai Lama, and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Attachment: English translation of "Charter 08."

For more information on Liu Xiaobo and writings by him, see:

For more information about efforts to commemorate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, see: