Charter 08 is a manifesto initially signed by 303 Chinese dissident intellectuals and human rights activists. It was published on 10 December 2008, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopting name and style from the anti-Soviet Charter 77 issued by dissidents in Czechoslovakia. Since its release, more than 10,000 people inside and outside China have signed the charter.
In 2009, one of the authors of Charter '08, Liu Xiaobo, was sentenced to eleven years' imprisonment for "inciting subversion of state power" because of his involvement. A year later, Liu was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize by Norway Nobel Committee. Seven years later in July 2017, he died of terminal liver cancer in the prison after having been granted medical parole.
Many of the original signatories were prominent Chinese citizens inside and outside the government, including lawyers; a Tibetan poet and essayist, Woeser; and Bao Tong, a former senior Communist Party official, who all faced a risk of arrest and jail. The Charter calls for 19 changes including an independent legal system, freedom of association and the elimination of one-party rule. "All kinds of social conflicts have constantly accumulated and feelings of discontent have risen consistently," it reads. "The current system has become backward to the point that change cannot be avoided." China remains the only large world power to still retain an authoritarian system that so infringes on human rights, it states. "This situation must change! Political democratic reforms cannot be delayed any longer!"
Specific demands are:
- Amending the Constitution.
- Separation of powers.
- Legislative democracy.
- An independent judiciary.
- Public control of public servants.
- Guarantee of human rights.
- Election of public officials.
- Abolition of the hukou system.
- Freedom of association.
- Freedom of assembly.
- Freedom of expression.
- Freedom of religion.
- Civic education.
- Free markets and protection of private property, including privatizing state enterprises and land.
- Financial and tax reform.
- Social security.
- Protection of the environment.
- A federated republic.
- Truth in reconciliation.
The opening paragraph of the charter states:
“ This year is the 100th year of China's Constitution, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 30th anniversary of the birth of the Democracy Wall, and the 10th year since China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. After experiencing a prolonged period of human rights disasters and a tortuous struggle and resistance, the awakening Chinese citizens are increasingly and more clearly recognizing that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal common values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, a republic, and constitutionalism constitute the basic structural framework of modern governance. A "modernization" bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives humans of their rights, corrodes human nature, and destroys human dignity. Where will China head in the 21st century? Continue a "modernization" under this kind of authoritarian rule? Or recognize universal values, assimilate into the mainstream civilization, and build a democratic political system? This is a major decision that cannot be avoided. ”
The Chinese government has said little publicly about the Charter. On 8 December 2008, two days before the 60th anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Liu Xiaobo was detained by police, hours before the online release of the Charter. He was detained and later arrested on 23 June 2009, on charges of "suspicion of inciting the subversion of state power." Several Nobel Laureates have written a letter to President Hu Jintao asking for his release; in response, the Chinese government has suppressed them: at least 70 of its 303 original signatories have been summoned or interrogated by police while domestic media have been forbidden to interview anyone who has signed the document. Police have also searched for or questioned a journalist, Li Datong, and two lawyers, though none have been arrested. State media has been banned from reporting on the manifesto. A blogging website popular with activists, bullog.cn, which may have had ties to the Charter, has been shut down. On 25 December 2009 Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power" activities by the court. On 8 October 2010 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China".
Outside of China
A number of governments, including those of the United States and Germany, as well as the opposition in Taiwan, have condemned the harassment of supporters of Charter 08 as well as hailing the Charter. Western press has generally covered the Charter positively, and international NGOs have supported its message. Other international figures, including the Dalai Lama, have also voiced their support and admiration of the Charter. There were also protests in Hong Kong demanding the release of Liu Xiaobo and other signatories.
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- Charter 77 (Czechoslovakia)
- Charter 97 (Belarus)
- Human rights in the People's Republic of China
- Law of the People's Republic of China
- Fifth Modernization (Wei Jingsheng)
- "Over 5000 people have signed the Charter 08 (《零八宪章》签名已超过5000人)". Boxun. 17 December 2008. Retrieved 15 December 2008.
- Spencer, Richard (9 December 2008). "Chinese dissidents emulate anti-Soviet heroes with Charter 08". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 10 December 2008.
- A Nobel Prize for a Chinese Dissident, The New York Times, September 20, 2010
- Why China's leadership should talk to the Charter 08 movement, Washington Post, 30 January 2009.
- Small green shoots of rebellion among ordinary Chinese, Irish Times, 31 January 2009.
- Macartney, Jane (10 December 2008). "Leading Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo, arrested over freedom charter". London: Times Online. Retrieved 10 December 2008.
- Link, Perry. "Charter 08 Translated from Chinese by Perry Link The following text of Charter 08, signed by hundreds of Chinese intellectuals and translated and introduced by Perry Link, Professor of Chinese Literature at the University of California, Riverside". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 10 December 2008.
- "Charter 08 (translated from the Chinese by Human Rights in China)". Human Rights in China. Retrieved 10 December 2008.
- China aims to silence reform call, BBC News, 12 January 2009.
- Human Rights in China, "Independent Scholars Detained: Start of 2009 Crackdown?," 9 December 2008.
- A Manifesto on Freedom Sets China’s Persecution Machinery in Motion, New York Times, 3 May 2009.
- "刘晓波因涉嫌煽动颠覆国家政权罪被依法逮捕" (Liu Xiaobo Formally Arrested on 'Suspicion of Inciting Subversion of State Power' Charges), China Review News, 24 June 2009.
- "Beijing acts to stifle dissident call for reform," Financial Times, 3 January 2009.
- "Media Ban on Charter Activists," UNHCR and RFA, 24 December 2008.
- "Edgy China blog site shut amid Internet porn sweep Archived January 23, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.," Associated Press, 9 January 2009.
- Sean McCormack, Sean McCormack (11 December 2008). "Harassment of Chinese Signatories to Charter 08 Press Statement Sean McCormack, Spokesman Washington, DC". U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on December 14, 2008. Retrieved 10 December 2008.
- "China retaliates against signatories of rights charter". Trend News. 11 December 2008. Retrieved 10 December 2008.
- Taiwan should heed "Charter 08" message, Taiwan News, 25 December 2008.
- "Independent Scholars Detained: Start of 2009 Crackdown?" Human Rights in China, 9 December 2008.
- "China: Retaliation for Signatories of Rights Charter Critic Liu Xiaobo Remains in Police Custody". Human Rights Watch. 10 December 2008. Retrieved 10 December 2008.
- "International PEN protests the detention of leading Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo". International Pen. 17 December 2008. Archived from the original on 26 January 2009. Retrieved 18 December 2008.
- "Statement From His Holiness the Dalai Lama". the 14th Dalai Lama. 11 December 2008. Archived from the original on December 12, 2008. Retrieved 11 December 2008.
- Full text of Charter 08: Original Chinese or Original Chinese (pdf), English translation by Perry Link,English translation with postscript by Perry Link, English translation by Human Rights in China
- Charter 08 main site (Chinese) -- includes updated news and signature lists
- Charter 08 main site (English) -- includes updated news and ability to sign the charter online
- "News about Charter 08," China Digital Times
- "Chinese Support Charter 08," History News Network
- "Over 300 sign 'Charter 08', a manifesto for human rights in China, but some are already arrested," Asia News