The EU and the US called on China on Monday to release a prominent pro-democracy writer and rights activist who faces trial on charges of subversion.
“The EU calls on the Chinese government to unconditionally release Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) and to end the harassment and detention,” the 27-nation bloc’s presidency said in a statement.
The US State Department said it had repeatedly raised Liu’s case with Chinese officials and joined the EU in voicing concern for other signatories of the “Charter 08” petition last year demanding Chinese democratic reforms.
“The US government is concerned that Chinese citizens such as Mr Liu may have been detained or harassed solely as a result of having exercised a universal right to freedom of expression,” US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.
“We urge the government of China to release Liu Xiaobo immediately and to respect the rights of all Chinese citizens to peacefully express their desire for internationally recognised freedoms,” he told reporters.
The 53-year-old Liu, who was jailed after playing a role in the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests, was arrested last December after he coauthored the widely circulated petition calling for greater democracy.
Liu’s lawyer said last week prosecutors had decided to try Liu on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” for publishing essays critical of the Chinese Communist Party.
The vaguely worded charge is routinely used in China to jail dissidents and carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
The lawyer said he expects his client to go on trial within four to six weeks.
Rights groups in China fear that after holding the former literature professor for more than a year without trial, officials have now sped up his prosecution and will rush the case through trial during the holiday season.
Meanwhile, Beijing yesterday warned Western countries against taking up Liu’s case.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu (姜瑜) said such calls amounted to interference in the country’s judiciary.
“These accusations are unacceptable. China is a country of rule of law. The fundamental rights of Chinese citizens are guaranteed by the law,” she told a regular news conference.
“I want to stress that Chinese judicial bodies handle cases independently. Outsiders have no right to interfere. We oppose any external forces using this case to meddle in China’s internal affairs or judicial sovereignty,” she said.
Jiang’s comments underscored that the government was unlikely to heed the growing international pressure on behalf of Liu, who could face trial as soon as next week.
Liu’s wife, Liu Xia (劉霞), said yesterday that her husband had met his lawyer on Monday and been told to prepare to stand trial “very soon.”
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