, BEIJING, Jun 24 – Leading Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo has been formally arrested for subversion, state media reported, six months after he was detained in the wake of signing a pro-democracy charter.
Liu was arrested on Tuesday for "alleged agitation activities aimed at subversion of the government and overthrowing of the socialist system," Xinhua news agency said, citing Beijing police.
The 53-year-old writer, who was involved in the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests, has been held incommunicado since December after signing Charter 08, a widely circulated petition that called for greater democracy in China.
"Liu has been engaged in agitation activities, such as spreading of rumours and defaming of the government, aimed at subversion of the state and overthrowing the socialism system in recent years," Xinhua quoted a police statement as saying.
Liu has confessed to the charge, the statement added.
His lawyer, Mo Shaoping, told AFP he had no knowledge of the arrest. Mo has not been allowed to see Liu since December.
Beijing police declined to comment when contacted by AFP.
The arrest comes amid a wider crackdown on dissent as China marks a series of sensitive political anniversaries this year, with dissidents complaining of harassment and tighter Internet controls.
China earlier this month passed the 20th anniversary of the crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests with stifling security and next faces October’s 60th anniversary of the founding of communist China.
Liu has been under a form of house arrest in an undisclosed location away from his home since December, with rights groups calling for Beijing to release him and make public any charges against him.
Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Human Rights Watch, said the arrest meant Liu would almost certainly go to prison.
"The legal proceedings are irrelevant. They are only an assembly line to a predetermined result," he told AFP.
"We believe that Liu Xiaobo has done nothing but exercise his right to freedom of expression and in no circumstances should he have been arrested."
Amnesty International also condemned Liu’s arrest.
"This use of state security charges to punish activists for merely expressing their views must stop," it said in an emailed statement.
Bequelin said Chinese authorities had basically tolerated Liu’s dissident writings and other activities in recent years.
But he said Liu’s arrest made clear that hard-line elements in the government blamed for a tightening of political controls since before last year’s Beijing Olympics had gained the upper hand.
"The Ministry of Public Security has seen its power considerably enhanced and they are more aggressive. The room for dissent is shrinking," he said.
Liu, who was jailed for nearly two years for his role in the 1989 Tiananmen protests and then again in the mid-1990s, headed a writer’s group called the Independent Chinese PEN Centre when police took him away.
His case has drawn intense international criticism, with both the European Union and the United States demanding his quick release.
Novelists such as Britain’s Salman Rushdie and Italy’s Umberto Eco, as well as Nobel laureates in literature including Irish poet Seamus Heaney, have also campaigned for Liu’s release.