Police investigators have presented prosecutors with a subversion case against China's most prominent dissident, lawyers for the activist, Liu Xiaobo, said on Wednesday. The move makes it more likely that Mr. Liu will be sent to prison, despite widespread international protests since he was detained without charge a year ago, human rights defenders predicted.
"This significantly reduces Liu's chance of being released," says Nicolas Bequelin, a China analyst with Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong. "It indicates that the decision to bring him to trial has been taken by higher-ups."
Liu's fate also indicates that "the crackdown on human rights defenders … that started in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics remains at a heightened level," says Roseanne Rife, Amnesty International's deputy program director for Asia. "The danger is now that it has become standard procedure."
Liu, a literary critic and essayist, was detained on Dec. 8 last year, apparently for his role in drafting "Charter 08," a call for greater democracy in China. The charter, signed by 300 people, was published on the Internet two days later, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It has since attracted more than 8,000 signatures.
Accused of "inciting subversion of state power," Liu was held in a secret location for six months before being formally arrested and transferred to Beijing's Detention Center No.1 last June. Police extended their investigation three times, the legal limit under Chinese law.
Third time in jail
This is the third time Liu, an outspoken critic of the Chinese regime, has been jailed. He spent two years in prison for his role during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, and three years in a "reeducation through labor" camp for challenging one-party rule in Web postings.
The prosecutor must now decide whether to drop the case, refer it back to the police for further investigation, or bring it to court.
He will "most likely" choose the third option, Liu's lawyer, Shang Baojun says, although Chinese law allows for up to six months of procedural delays.
If Liu is brought before a judge, "it is impossible that he will not be convicted," argues Mr. Bequelin. "His arrest was political, his prosecution will be political, and the outcome will be political," he charges. "The legal procedures are just a pipeline through which the case is processed, but the outcome is decided elsewhere."
Ignoring international pressure
The decision by Chinese authorities to go forward with the case defies international condemnation of their bid to brand pro-democracy activists as subversives. Liu's arrest drew protests from leading authors around the world, including Salman Rushdie, Umberto Eco, and Wole Soyinka.
Until the prosecutor makes his decision, Liu's fate is not sealed, says Bequelin. "But time is running out," he says.
"I don't know whether international pressure helps," says Liu's lawyer, Mr. Shang. "But we cannot do nothing."
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