Beijing High People's Court Affirms Liu Xiaobo's 11-Year Sentence

February 26, 2010

The Beijing High People's Court upheld the 11-year sentence of prominent writer Liu Xiaobo on February 11, 2010, for essays he wrote criticizing the Communist Party and advocating for political reforms and for his participation in Charter 08, a document calling for political reform and human rights. Liu's use of the Internet to disseminate his views figured prominently in the court's decision to affirm what is reportedly the longest sentence for the crime of inciting subversion of state power in at least a decade.

The Beijing High People's Court announced on February 11, 2010, its decision to uphold the 11-year sentence of prominent writer Liu Xiaobo for "inciting subversion of state power," according to a February 11 Human Rights in China (HRIC) report. (Boxun has posted a copy of the Beijing High People's Court's judgment.) The judgment, dated February 9, echoed the lower court's ruling that Liu had taken advantage of the "special features" (tedian) of the Internet to disseminate essays and collect signatures for Charter 08 in order to "slander and incite others to overthrow our country's state power and socialist system." As the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) noted in an earlier analysis, the lower court cited specific passages in Charter 08 and Liu's essays that were critical of the Communist Party and supportive of democracy, but provided no evidence that Liu advocated violence. (See a CECC summary of the essays and an HRIC English translation of the lower court's December 25, 2009, judgment.) In Liu's appeal defense statement (HRIC English translation), dated January 28, his lawyers argued that the court had conflated the government and ruling party with the "state" and that Liu's criticism of the government and Communist Party were a legitimate exercise of Liu's constitutional rights. The defense's appeal also explained how specific passages the court said "incited subversion of state power" were merely Liu's views on reforming China's political system, including lifting the ban on independent political parties.

The Beijing High People's Court also rejected Liu's argument that the lower court should have counted the time he served under "residential surveillance" toward his sentence because the residential surveillance amounted to de facto detention. Officials kept Liu under "residential surveillance" at an undisclosed location away from his Beijing home for more than six months before formally arresting him on June 23, 2009. Liu's lawyers argued in their appeal that the Beijing Public Security Bureau's residential surveillance of Liu was a "disguised method of detention." They noted that the residential surveillance violated the law because Liu was not held at his legal residence, Liu's wife was not allowed to live with him, and Liu was denied access to his lawyer. The Beijing High People's Court addressed the issue in cursory fashion, stating that public security officials had acted "according to law and regulations," without explaining how it came to this conclusion or further analyzing why the residential surveillance as applied to Liu should not count toward time served. (See a previous CECC analysis that finds support for the contention that Liu's residential surveillance should have counted toward time served.)

Both the trial and appellate court judgments reflect officials' heightened sensitivity to citizens' use of the Internet to criticize the government and Communist Party. Both judgments noted that Liu had taken advantage of the Internet's "special features" of "rapid transmission of information, broad reach, great social influence, and high degree of public attention." Both cited the number of hits Liu's essays received and noted that the essays had been linked to and reposted on other Web sites. As noted in a recent CECC analysis, China's public security leadership continues to prioritize control over Internet content and traffic as an essential tool in their campaign to "safeguard stability."

Jon Huntsman, U.S. Ambassador to China, said in a press release on Liu's appeal that "[Liu] should not have been sentenced in the first place and should be released immediately. We have raised our concerns about Mr. Liu’s detention repeatedly and at high levels, both in Beijing and in Washington, since he was taken into custody over a year ago. Mr. Liu has peacefully worked for the establishment of political openness and accountability in China. Persecution of individuals for the peaceful expression of political views is inconsistent with internationally-recognized norms of human rights." Following Liu's original sentence in December, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said "[t]he conviction and extremely harsh sentencing of Liu Xiaobo mark a further severe restriction on the scope of freedom of expression in China," according to a December 25 UN News Centre article. In January, four Communist Party officials signed a letter calling for authorities to reverse the verdict against Liu, according to a January 24 Associated Press article (via Yahoo!News). In response to a question about Liu's appeal decision, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu told reporters at a regular press conference on February 11 that China has "no dissidents," according to a February 11 Agence France-Presse article (via Google News). In addition, Xinhua, China's central government news agency, issued a report on February 11 citing several Chinese legal scholars' support of the decision. "The court's verdict is in accordance with China's Criminal Law and is in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as internationally-recognized restriction of norms regarding freedom of expression," said Professor Gao Mingxuan, president of the China branch of the International Association of Penal Law.

See a previous CECC analysis on Liu's case for a discussion of how China's use of criminal law anti-subversion provisions to punish peacefully expressed views violates international human rights standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

For more information on how Chinese officials use the criminal charge of subversion or inciting subversion to punish citizens who express opposition to the Communist Party, see pp. 46-47 of the CECC 2009 Annual Report.