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Pro-democracy activists display a poster of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was arrested a year ago after co-authoring a manifesto urging civil rights and political reforms in China. Kin Cheung/AP (Kin Cheung)
Pro-democracy activists display a poster of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was arrested a year ago after co-authoring a manifesto urging civil rights and political reforms in China. Kin Cheung/AP (Kin Cheung)

China moves toward charging prominent dissident Add to ...

Chinese authorities have moved a step closer to charging Liu Xiaobo, a prominent dissident who co-authored a manifesto calling for democracy and greater freedom of speech in the country, with "inciting subversion" - an offence that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Mr. Liu's wife and lawyers said yesterday that they have been informed that police formally presented their case against Mr. Liu to prosecutors last week. The move comes almost a year to the day after the online publication of Charter 08, a petition calling for sweeping changes to the way China is governed that has attracted more than 10,000 signatures.

In an interview, Mr. Liu's wife, Liu Xia, said she learned of the development on Tuesday, one year after police came to their house and took her husband into detention. He was held at a secret location for six months before being formally arrested in June.

Ms. Liu, who has seen her husband only once since his initial detention, said she has read the briefing that police have presented to the prosecutor, which she said describes the case as "important and serious." In addition to Charter 08, the complaint refers to a series of essays Mr. Liu has published on the Internet in recent years.

"I feel very angry and at the same time very helpless. I almost can't see any hope," said Ms. Liu, speaking by telephone. "I predict that if it goes on like this, Xiaobo is very likely to be given a heavy sentence."

Prosecutors have a month to examine the evidence presented to them by police before deciding whether to formally charge Mr. Liu. That the case has gotten this far in China's tightly controlled judicial system, however, is seen by many as evidence that the government intends to go ahead with a trial, in which case Mr. Liu is all but certain to be convicted.

The move toward charging the 53-year-old former university professor comes despite calls for his release from the U.S. State Department as well as prominent writers and international statesmen, including former Czech president Vaclav Havel.

Once considered so high-profile that Beijing would be hesitant to prosecute him, Mr. Liu is seen as having crossed a red line with Charter 08, which includes calls for the election of public officials, the establishment of an independent judiciary and the creation of a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate China's recent past. "The current system [in China]has become backward to the point that change cannot be avoided," the document reads.

Signatories say the manifesto was consciously modelled on Charter 77, a document co-written by Mr. Havel that is seen as having galvanized opposition to the Communist regime in the former Czechoslovakia.

Human-rights activists say the harsh treatment of Mr. Liu underscores how nervous China's own Communist authorities are about that historical parallel. Nearly all of the 303 writers and intellectuals who put their names to Charter 08 when it was published last year have been detained or questioned by police.

"Liu Xiaobo is the one who has really taken the fall for Charter 08. It's obvious that the Chinese government wants to send a message that this [the Czechoslovakia model]is not the road that China is to travel," said Phelim Kine, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Human Rights Watch.

This is the third time Mr. Liu has run afoul of Chinese authorities. He was imprisoned for 20 months for his participation in the student-led pro-democracy demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in 1989, and spent three years in a re-education-through-labour camp in the 1990s.

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