On December 10, 1948 the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 60 years later, 303 Chinese intellectuals, lawyers and citizens chose the occasion to post their online ’08 Charter” for China. In it, they demand that basic rights such as freedom and democracy be guaranteed. They also call for a separation of powers, the direct election of members of parliament and an independent judiciary. Two of the Charter’s main initiators were arrested just before the launch-date. On Wednesday, there was still no news of Liu Xiaobo’s whereabouts but Zhang Zuhua was free.
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“Over 20 police officers showed up at my place and searched my apartment,” Zhang told Deutsche Welle. “My computer, my books, my cash and bank cards were confiscated. Now I have to wait for a possible charge.”
The expert on constitutional law Zhang Zuhua relates his arrest on Monday. He was accused of subverting justice. This is an allegation often directed at dissidents in China. It’s an ambiguous clause and ironic that the charter wants this offence to be abolished.
Zhang explained why the charter is so important: “This year, China’s ‘Reform and Open Door Policy’ turns 30. And the UN Declaration of Human Rights is 60.
“The Chinese government has broadcast its version of history on all the channels -- of the successes under its leadership. But civil society must be able to express its own independent opinion; about China’s past and about its future.”
Freedom, human rights and democracy
The essence of the 08’ Charter is already clear from the very first lines. They are about the people’s longing for freedom, human rights, equality, democracy and justice.
“The „New China“ that was founded in 1949 claims to be a People’s Republic,” the charter reads.
“In reality, it is a party dictatorship. The ruling party has a grip on all of the political, economic and social resources. It has caused a series of human rights disasters, at the cost of millions of lives. The people and nation have paid a very high price.”
19 concrete measures
The charter proposes 19 concrete measures. The constitution has to be revised, it says. All articles which violate the principle of the people’s sovereignty should be abolished. There should be a modern government with a division of powers. There should be direct elections to all parliaments, at every level. And to make sure this is all enforced, a constitutional court should be re-established. Above all, there should be a multi-party system.
Among the signatories of the charter are famous scientists, journalists, writers, lawyers and artists, as well as students, teachers, and workers.
The 53-year-old Zhang Zuhua explained: “The charter means well and is constructive and sensible. We hope that the government will improve the justice system faster and will accelerate the political reform process, so that China gets on the right path and civil society can also make a contribution.”
The arrest of the two initiators, however, raises doubts about the Chinese government’s willingness to deal constructively with the charter’s proposals.