In the month since Charter 08 was first issued on December 9, 2008, the Chinese authorities, in addition to detaining one of its signers, independent intellectual Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), have mobilized police forces across the country to summon, threaten, harass and monitor other signers. The signers include not only well-known scholars, writers, professors, lawyers and dissidents, but also peasants, workers, evictees, and petitioners. Further, the authorities are going all out to shut down any websites or blogs that reprint the charter and public email boxes that collect charter signatures; they are also intimidating those who show interest in the charter and blocking any linkage between the charter and rights defense activists and petitioners in different regions.
Charter 08 is a major undertaking at a historic juncture of China’s current social transformation. Premised on universal human rights norms, the charter presents 19 proposals to the Chinese government on constitutional reform, judicial independence, freedom of expression, and human rights protection. It appeals to all Chinese citizens with a sense of duty – whether they are inside or outside government and regardless of their social status – to push for social change in China. To date, more than 7,200 people have responded to the call and signed the charter, 80 percent of whom are individuals within mainland China. As the authorities continue an intensified crackdown on rights defense activities, the willingness of people to sign the charter using their real names is a potent expression of the yearning for fundamental social and political change in China.
Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned from various sources in China that the police and other authorities in different localities have repeatedly summoned charter signers, stating that they are following orders from higher authorities to investigate Charter 08’s drafting process. The way in which the summonses are served, the tone of the questioning, the characterization of the charter, and the manner in which the threats are delivered are largely the same across the country. The authorities warn that the charter seriously violates the law, destroys social harmony, and endangers state security, and is “a violation of the constitution and an egregious challenge to the bottom line – the leadership of the Communist Party and the ‘Four Cardinal Principles’ [adherence to the Socialist road, and upholding the people's democratic dictatorship, the leadership of the Communist Party of China, and Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong thought].”
Unfortunately, the government authorities appear to be reacting to the charter with great anxiety, as though they fear that Charter 08 could become the banner around which social discontent could converge. They call the charter “illegal” and “counter to political principles,” and vow not to follow this “deviant path under a different banner.”
The Chinese government’s actions not only violate its own constitution and undermine the human rights promises it has made to the international community, but also betrays its deep insecurity in how to bring the country forward.
“The Chinese government’s overreaction not only fails to address the serious problems confronting China, but is in fact pouring oil onto fire, intensifying conflicts and deepening the social crisis,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of HRIC.
China stands at a historic crossroads, facing an uncertain future. After 30 years of rapid development, the Chinese economy is obviously slipping, companies are closing down, workers are being laid off, and peasants are losing their land. Social conflicts are intensifying and are approaching a crisis point. In addition, the coming year is marked by many sensitive anniversaries: the 90th anniversary of the May 4 movement in 1919, the 50th anniversary of the great famine and the exile of the Dalai Lama in 1959, the 30th anniversary of the crackdown on the “Democracy Wall” in 1979, the 20th anniversary of the June 4 incident in 1989, the 10th anniversary of the crackdown on Falun Gong, and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Judging from government actions in the past, these anniversaries are likely to lead to increased social control and crackdown. But these anniversaries also provide important opportunities for the Chinese government to redress past and present injustices, and for the international community to support the people of China in their call for reform.
For more information on Charter 08, see:
For more information on Liu Xiaobo and writings by him, see: