Beijing Police Transfer Liu Xiaobo's Case to Prosecutors

December 9, 2009

In early December 2009, Beijing police transferred the case of prominent intellectual Liu Xiaobo to prosecutors, who will now decide whether to take the case to trial. Liu has been charged with inciting subversion for essays he wrote in support of democracy and for his support of Charter 08, a document calling for political reform and greater protection of human rights in China.

Beijing police have concluded their investigation against prominent intellectual and Charter 08 signatory Liu Xiaobo and transferred his case to prosecutors in early December 2009, according to a December 10 Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) article and December 9 articles by the Associated Press (via Washington Post) and New York Times. The New York Times reported that "Mr. Liu’s lawyer, Shang Baojun, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that the police had sent to the prosecutors a report accusing Mr. Liu of inciting subversion by posting online essays favoring democracy and by helping to draft Charter 08." The Charter was released online on December 9, 2008, and signed by thousands of Chinese citizens. It calls for political reform and greater protection of human rights in China and led to official harassment of numerous signers. Liu was taken into custody on December 8, 2008, a day before the Charter was released, and placed under residential surveillance. Police formally arrested him on the charge of "inciting subversion of state power" on June 23, 2009.

Under Article 138 of the Criminal Procedure Law, prosecutors have up to one-and-a-half months (which includes a half-month extension) to decide whether to initiate a prosecution. In that time, they may also decide to send the case back to police for supplementary investigation, a move that would restart the clock on the time limit for the prosecution's review of the case (Article 140).

Liu's case has been marred by police abuses and violations of procedural law. After Liu's arrest in June, police barred prominent defense lawyer Mo Shaoping from representing Liu, reportedly because Mo was a fellow signatory of Charter 08. In the months after taking Liu into custody, officials kept Liu in residential surveillance under conditions that violated Chinese laws, including denying Liu access to counsel and keeping him at an undisclosed location beyond the legal time limit for residential surveillance.

Liu could face a sentence of as much as 15 years in prison if convicted. Article 105, Paragraph 2, of the Criminal Law provides for the crime of inciting subversion and "ringleaders and the others who commit major crimes" face a sentence of no less than five years. Article 45 caps fixed-term imprisonment at 15 years. According to the December 10 CHRD article, the police report labeled Liu's alleged involvement in Charter 08 as a "major crime."

Chinese officials have frequently relied on the "inciting subversion" charge to punish citizens who publicly criticize the government and express support for human rights and democracy, often in writings appearing on the Internet. (See, e.g., Guo Quan, Tan Zuoren, Yang Chunlin, Hu Jia, Lu Gengsong).

For more information on restrictions on freedom of expression in China, including official abuse of the subversion charge and suppression of Charter 08, see Section II―Freedom of Expression in the CECC 2009 Annual Report.