02/24/2009, 00.00
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Party divided over arresting all (or some) Charter 08 signers

Some in the Politburo would like to repress the entire democratic movement; Hu Jintao is thinking only of blocking the core group of original signers. Party elders have published an open letter asking for political reforms - in the style of Charter 08 - to stop corruption and abuse of power.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - Charter 08's proposals for more democracy and protection for human rights in China have the Party leadership at an impasse, divided between those who want radical repression and those who want long-delayed political reforms.

Launched last December, Charter 08 calls for the implementation of the civil rights included in China's Constitution and undersigned by the UN, together with the end of the single party system, in order to save China from corruption and environmental and social disasters. So far, more than 8,000 have signed the Charter, between intellectuals, activists, academics, and ordinary people. According to various analysts, Charter 08 is the most significant political movement to emerge outside of the Communist Party in recent decades (c.f. Charter 08: for human rights in China). According to sources cited by the South China Morning Post, the Chinese leadership is divided over how to address this challenge. Some members of the Permanent Committee of the Politburo - including Li Changchun (Political Office) and Zhou Yongkang (former minister of public safety) - call for "strictly repressing" all of the signatories. President Hu Jintao, however, wants the repression to focus on those who began the campaign, the first 300 signers, leaving alone the thousands of other supporters.

So far, only the intellectual Liu Xiaobo, who may have drafted the document, is under arrest, in an unknown location. Others are under surveillance day and night, and suffer interrogation and threats if they dare to show or distribute copies of Charter 08. The text of the document disappeared from the internet a few days after its publication, although it continues to circulate around China and the world in clandestine form.

The most prominent personalities to have signed the Charter include Bao Tong, a close collaborator of the deceased Communist Party secretary Zhao Ziyang. Bao spent 20 years in prison and under house arrest for supporting the pro-democracy protests in 1989.

During the 1980's, Bao Tong and Zhao Ziyang worked for political reforms in Chinese society very similar to the ones called for today in Charter 08, but the massacre in Tiananmen Square and the clampdown within the Party blocked any development.

Just one week ago, a group of Party members called for the revisiting of the political reforms that had been considered under Zhao Ziyang. In an open letter to the Permanent Committee of the Politburo, they call for the end of censorship, the emergence of an organized opposition, democracy, and transparency as the only way to lead the country out of the present economic crisis.

"After our economic structure shifted to become market-oriented, political reform has been severely stalled, with power being abused and corruption widespread," the letter says. "Corruption must be tackled at its root and [in order to do this] the ground-breaking mechanism of checks and balances and supervision [of power] must be established urgently."

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See also
Party official issues urgent call for democratic reforms
Another three Chinese dissidents in prison
Bao Tong: Beijing should explain how Charter '08 violates the law
Arrests continue for signers of Charter 08
Hu Jintao cracks down on intellectuals and media


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