Prosecutors Indict Liu Xiaobo; Trial To Take Place December 23

December 22, 2009

Prosecutors indicted prominent intellectual Liu Xiaobo on December 10, 2009, and a Beijing court will hold his trial on December 23. Charged with the crime of "inciting subversion," Liu faces up to 15 years in prison for essays he wrote critical of the Chinese government and political system and for participating in Charter 08. Liu's case has been marred from the beginning by apparent violations of Chinese legal protections for criminal suspects. Both the United States and European Union recently called for Liu's release.

The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court will conduct the trial of prominent intellectual Liu Xiaobo on December 23, 2009, according to a December 21 Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) article. Prosecutors indicted Liu on December 10, according to a December 11 Radio Free Asia (RFA) article. Mo Shaoping, a defense lawyer whose law firm is handling Liu's case, told RFA that the prosecution's indictment alleges that Liu drafted and organized Charter 08, a document originally signed by more than 300 Chinese citizens and which calls for political reform and greater protection of human rights in China. Liu was taken into custody on December 8, 2008, a day before the charter was released. The charter was posted on the Internet and additional persons have signed the document via e-mail. CHRD reported on December 10 that about 80 percent of the charter's more than 10,000 signers live in mainland China. Authorities have harassed signatories and censored the charter from the Internet. Mo said that the indictment also cites six essays written by Liu from 2005 onward that were posted on overseas Web sites including "Guancha" ( and the British Broadcasting Corporation. Based on the titles of the essays as reported by RFA, Commission staff located copies of the essays on the Internet:

  • "The Chinese Communist Party's Dictatorial Patriotism" (October 3, 2005, posted on Epoch Times' Web site) - Liu argues that the source of a nation's sovereignty is its people and that the government and ruling party are servants of the nation. Therefore, Liu argues, in order for a government to be truly patriotic, it must respect its people and their right to peacefully criticize and oppose their government. Dictatorships, however, according to Liu, pay lip service to patriotism but do not respect or love the main component of a nation—its people.
  • "Can It Be That the Chinese People Are Only Suited To Accepting 'Party-ruled Democracy'?" (January 6, 2006, posted on - Liu critiques the 2005 government white paper Building of Political Democracy in China (via Xinhua) and criticizes its claim that it places authority in the people; instead Liu coins the term "party-ruled democracy" to describe the Chinese Communist Party's dictatorship and approach toward democracy. Liu also discusses recent history including the Chinese government's violent suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen protests.
  • "Changing State Power Through Changing Society" (February 26, 2006, posted on - Liu discusses how societal changes in the post-Mao era in the relationship between citizens and the state has improved prospects for political reform and urges a gradual, non-violent approach in the pursuit of a liberal democracy.
  • "The Multi-faceted Dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party" (March 13, 2006, originally on, posted on Epoch Times' Web site) - Liu discusses how the Communist Party has maintained political control, despite the sudden decline in the popularity of the Party's ideology after the events of June 1989, by appealing to the economic self-interests of elites, business people, and officials and entangling them in corruption, bribery, and tax evasion which "autocrats" can use to punish them at any time.
  • "The Negative Effects of the Rise of the Chinese Communist Party on Democratization in the World" (May 6, 2006, posted on Epoch Times' Web site) - Liu calls the Chinese Communist Party one of the largest obstacles to democratization around the world for, among other things, using the prospect of energy cooperation to build closer relations with Iran and other countries that oppose the United States and the West, using "dollar diplomacy" to extract political concessions from free countries in Europe, and pressuring American companies to restrict freedom of expression to gain access to the Chinese market.
  • "Continuing Questions with Regard to the Black Kiln Child Slave Incident" (July 16, 2007, posted on Human Rights in China's Web site) - Liu questions the official handling of a 2007 scandal in which children were sold to work in brick kilns in Shanxi province, calling officials "cold-blooded and brazen."

None of the language in the essays advocates violence and, as indicated above, one essay specifically calls for non-violence. In China, citizens who peacefully criticize the Chinese government and political system and disseminate such views over the Internet can face imprisonment for inciting subversion, a crime under Article 105, Paragraph 2, of the Criminal Law. Courts typically acknowledge, but give little or no protection to, the right to freedom of speech found in Article 35 of China's Constitution. Such government restriction on freedom of expression violates international human rights standards. (See Section II—Freedom of Expression (p. 46–47) in the CECC 2009 Annual Report.)

One of Liu's defense lawyers said that prosecutors acted unusually fast in indicting Liu, and Mo Shaoping said prosecutors violated Chinese law by not seeking the opinion of defense lawyers before indicting. Shang Baojun told RFA that prosecutors indicted Liu on December 10, only two days after informing the defense that they had begun reviewing the case for prosecution. Mo told RFA that, under Chinese law, in order to ensure that defense lawyers carry out their legal professional duties during the criminal process, the prosecution must solicit the opinion of defense lawyers during their review to decide whether to indict. Article 139 of the Criminal Procedure Law provides that "[w]hen examining a case, the People's Procuratorate shall interrogate the criminal suspect and heed the opinions of the victim and of the persons entrusted by the criminal suspect and the victim." The failure of the prosecutors to consult defense lawyers is the latest in a string of violations of legal protections for criminal suspects that have marred Liu's case from the beginning. Liu was taken into custody on December 8, 2008, and placed under residential surveillance. But instead of confining Liu to his home in Beijing, as required by Chinese law, officials kept Liu at an undisclosed location in Beijing. Officials also limited Liu's access to his lawyer, despite provisions under Chinese law that give a person under residential surveillance the right to meet with his lawyer without permission. Officials kept Liu under residential surveillance beyond the six-month legal limit and did not formally arrest him until June 23, 2009.

Liu's defense lawyers also requested postponement of the trial, concerned that there was too little time to review the voluminous case file and prepare their defense, according to the December 21 CHRD report. The court rejected this request. CHRD also reported that officials denied Liu's wife a permit to attend the trial because she was listed as a prosecution "witness." CHRD said that officials had warned numerous Chinese activists and supporters of Liu not to express support for Liu on the Internet or attempt to attend the trial.

Following news of Liu's indictment, both the United States and European Union called for Liu's release, a move China rejected. On December 14, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly urged the Chinese government to "release Liu Xiaobo immediately and to respect the rights of all Chinese citizens who peacefully express their desire for internationally recognized freedoms, including the right to petition one’s government," according to the State Department's Web site. In a December 14 declaration, the European Union called on the Chinese government "to unconditionally release Mr. Liu Xiaobo and to end the harassment and detention of other signatories of Charter 08." On December 15, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Jiang Yu said "these accusations are unacceptable. China is a country of rule of law. The fundamental rights of Chinese citizens are guaranteed by the law," according to a December 15 Reuters article.

Additional Commission Resources on Liu Xiaobo: