A charter signed last week by more than 300 Chinese from all walks of professional life envisioning a free and democratic country calls for Beijing to approach cross-strait relations with a full “commitment to the principles of freedom and democracy” and to “be prepared to compromise.”
Charter 08, modeled on the former Czechoslovakia’s Charter 77 — named after the year in which it was signed — was released last week to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948.
The document, a full English-language translation of which will be published in the Jan. 15 issue of the New York Review of Books, argues against a one-party state and says a government “exists for the protection of the human rights of its citizens.”
It says that the failure to reform will only lead to increased social instability and injustice — the products of a regime that has brutally “stripped people of their rights, destroyed their dignity, and corrupted normal human intercourse.”
The translation can be viewed on the Review’s Web site.
University of California professor Perry Link wrote in an introduction to his translation: “The prominent citizens who have signed the document are from both outside and inside the government, and include not only well-known dissidents and intellectuals, but also middle-level officials and rural leaders,”
The signatories also include peasants, writers, entrepreneurs, lawyers and teachers.
The charter prompted police to detain at least two and harass others involved in the document’s composition and signing, human rights groups including Chinese Human Rights Defenders and Reporters without Borders reported.
Section 3, Article 18 of the charter argues for a “federated republic” of China based on respect for freedoms. The rights enjoyed in Hong Kong and Macau must be preserved, it says.
“With respect to Taiwan, we should declare our commitment to the principles of freedom and democracy and then, negotiating as equals, and ready to compromise, seek a formula for peaceful unification,” it says.
Article 18 also calls on China to treat minorities equally. Although it does not name the highly sensitive areas of Tibet and Xinjiang, where brutal crackdowns on freedom of expression and religion have been used to silence calls for autonomy, equal treatment or independence from China, it calls for a “federation of democratic communities of China.”
“We should approach disputes in the national-minority areas of China with an open mind, seeking ways to find a workable framework within which all ethnic and religious groups can flourish,” the charter says.
In the days leading up to the charter’s release, legal expert Zhang Zuhua (張祖樺) and Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) — the former chairman of Independent Chinese PEN, an NGO that supports freedom of speech — were taken into police custody.
Liu, an activist known also for his role in the Tiananmen demonstrations of 1989, is still in custody, rights groups say. Zhang was released after interrogation.