China urged to release scholar Liu Xiaobo from ‘residential surveillance’

A dissident literary scholar has been held without charge at an unknown location in China since 8 December.

The Chinese authorities detained Liu Xiaobo after he signed a campaign for political and rights reform in China, known as Charter 08. They have not yet made public any information concerning his alleged crimes, the charges against him and his current whereabouts.

Under Chinese laws, Liu Xiaobo could be held under “residential surveillance” for a maximum of six months. During that time he cannot leave his residence or meet people without prior police approval.

His family do not know where he is. He has not spoken to his lawyer. He doesn’t have the right of access to a judge to challenge the grounds of his detention, unless his detention exceeds the six month limit.

“The use of such detention without formal arrest or charge against peaceful activists is arbitrary and in violation of international human rights standards, including the rights to liberty, security of person and fair trial,” said Roseann Rife, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Programme.

“Even as prescribed by Chinese law, “residential surveillance” contravenes essential elements of the right to fair trial under international human rights standards, including the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. These include the right to be brought promptly before a judge or judicial officer and the right to challenge the lawfulness of detention.”

Charter 08, initially signed by approximately 300 Chinese scholars, lawyers and officials, proposes a blueprint for fundamental legal and political reform in China, with the goal of a democratic system that respects human rights.

Since the Charter 08 launch, Chinese authorities have questioned and harassed numerous signatories. Charter 08 is now considered a “counter revolutionary platform”. This could signal harsher treatment of signatories. So far, Liu Xiaobo is the only known signatory in detention.

Chinese authorities seized Liu Xiaobo at his Beijing home two days before the Charter 08 planned launch, which was timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It is not clear if Liu Xiaobo was given any official notice of his “residential surveillance”, as required by judicial interpretations on criminal procedures. Sources in China told Amnesty International that Liu Xiaobo’s family did not know when the “residential surveillance” started and police said that the charge against Liu Xiaobo would be decided by the higher authorities upon completion of the investigation.

One of China’s best-known dissidents, Liu Xiaobo has been detained twice before for his writings and his support of the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Beijing. He spent several years in detention.

Amnesty International has urged the Chinese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Liu Xiaobo and to cease harassing the other signatories of Charter 08.

The organization has also called on the authorities to make public any information about Liu Xiaobo’s arrest and to allow him access to legal counsel of his choice.