01/28/2009, 00.00
CHINA

New year begins with arrests of Charter 08 signers

Ahead of the celebration, the police put writer Liu Di under house arrest, and prohibit Zhao Dagong from leaving the city to celebrate with his elderly parents. Bao Tong: Charter 08 is a good opportunity for the country to "unite and resolve the problems" that cause conflicts and social protests.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Ahead of the new year celebration, Liu Di has been put under house arrest and Zhao Dagong may not return home. Both are signers of Charter 08.

Liu, a well-known Beijing writer, has told her friends that shortly before the new year, the police "told me they were putting me under house arrest, and they threatened to detain me in a cell." She was previously arrested in November of 2002 for publishing satirical articles on the internet, about how the government and the communist party do not protect freedom of expression.

The author signed Charter 08, a document signed by thousands of Chinese intellectuals and citizens, calling upon Beijing to provide more democracy and respect for human rights.

At the same time, the police have "told" the writer Zhao Dagong, another signer of the Charter, not to leave the city of Shenzhen where he is living, not even to visit his family to celebrate the holiday.

He tells Radio Free Asia that "both my parents are over 80, so I am furious that they aren't letting me return home to see them. But there's nothing I can do. If I tried to leave they would probably detain me," he said. "They were very emphatic about this, saying it wasn't an order that had been made in Shenzhen but one that had come down from higher up."

Many of the authors and signers of Charter 08 are under detention or surveillance. Liu Xiaobo has been detained for over a month, without any news of his whereabouts or his being permitted to see his wife. Demonstrations of solidarity with him have come from all over the world (in the photo: a demonstration for his release, in front of the Chinese consulate in New York). Former Czech president Vaclav Havel, one of the signers of Charter '77, which inspired Charter 08, has also called for his release, and has warned the Chinese government that "intimidation, propaganda, and repression cannot replace reasonable dialogue."

But Bao Tong, a former communist party leader who has been under house arrest for years, has called for confidence in a telephone interview, because "the rights that [Charter 08] asserts are as fundamental to existence as wearing clothes, or as food and drink, or as breathing. This is a very good opportunity for the whole country to unite and solve the problems that its people are facing. Chinese society is full of conflicts and clashes right now, and Charter 08 would be a way to alleviate that pressure."

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