Charter 08 worries China
Police have detained activists behind the democracy petition, which has drawn diverse support.
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The group has called Mr. Liu's detention "the most significant Chinese dissident case in a decade." "He was seen as being pretty untouchable," says Mr. Bequelin. "The fact he was taken away shatters that notion, and indicates an escalation in the repression of independent thought in China."Skip to next paragraph
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Zhang was also arrested on Dec. 8, but later released. Less then three weeks after the pair's detention, sitting in a private back room of a Beijing coffeeshop, he explained the appeal of the document he helped craft. "I think Charter 08 articulates what many Chinese people want to say," he says.
The direct inspiration is Czech activists' call for freedom in 1977, during the days of Soviet occupation. Charter 08's critique is blunt: "The political reality, which is plain for anyone to see, is that China has many laws but no rule of law; it has a constitution but no constitutional government. The ruling elite continues to cling to its authoritarian power and fights off any move toward political change."
Zhang says more than 300,000 websites now link to the charter, and it's being discussed on blogs, QQ (a popular Chinese instant message service and website) groups, and other chat rooms. "It's impossible to block information in society now," he says.
One user posted the following on the Independent Review, an online forum: "The CCP cannot even accept such peaceful and rational suggestions? I will sign the charter!"
Zhang says police seized from his home four computers, books, documents, DVDs, and all of his, his wife's, and their parents' cash and credit cards. Just hours after the Monitor interviewed him on Dec. 26, Zhang was detained again, according to the group China Human Rights Defenders.
"His interrogators sternly warned Mr. Zhang about 'severe consequences' to his family and friends if he continued to give media interviews or engage in any other activities promoting Charter 08," the group wrote in a press release.
Zhang and other activists say the government's reaction to the document reflects its worries ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, and as China's economic engine begins to sputter.
Beijing has banned state-run media interviews with charter signers, banned articles by charter signers, and ordered a crackdown on journalists who signed the charter, according to Radio Free Asia. Websites publishing Charter 08 have been blocked, though it's easily found using a proxy server.
Zhang says he expected this reaction to Charter 08 and is "mentally prepared" for jail. He notes police have treated him well so far – due to his party background, he guesses.
"Sent down" to Sichuan Province during the Cultural Revolution to make missile parts in cave factories, Zhang later became a high-ranking party youth league official – only to be stripped of his post in 1989 after he spoke out in support of protesters. Now he's vulnerable to charges of "inciting subversion" for his role in Charter 08.
Zhang says his home is watched around the clock by at least two men, whom he brings hot water and magazines. "We get along very well. We're all humans, they're only doing their job," says Zhang. "We're not enemies."
"I don't want to be jailed, but I have no choice," he continues. "We have to stand up and fight for democracy."
• Zhang Yajun contributed to this story.