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BEIJING (AP) – Four senior Communist Party officials known for their liberal views are pushing for the release of an imprisoned Chinese dissident who had issued a daring call for political reform, one of the group said Sunday.
The four have signed a strongly worded letter, addressed to “incumbent party and government leaders,” urging authorities to reconsider the verdict against Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced in December to 11 years in prison after being convicted of subversion charges.
“These four are senior cadres that have been quite an open-minded force within the party for many years,” said Patrick Poon, vice president of the Independent Chinese Pen Center, which posted the letter on its Web site. “They have been always very supportive for pushing forward political reforms while the economic reform has been going well in China.”
While the letter did not call specifically for Liu’s release, He Fang, a cadre who signed the letter and is honorary member of the academic committee at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was direct when asked what its purpose was.
“To reverse the verdict and to find that Liu is not guilty and to release him,” he told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “Also, to safeguard the constitution and the rights of freedom of speech.”
Liu was the co-author of an unusually direct appeal for political liberalization in China called Charter 08, which was signed by more than 300 people, including some of China’s top intellectuals. Rights groups have said the harshness of Liu’s sentence was a warning to others who challenge China’s one-party rule.
The party officials’ open letter was written by Hu Jiwei, a former chief of People’s Daily newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party. The signatories are all in their 80s and 90s, according to the letter; their age could provide them with a certain degree of protection from harassment.
It said the main evidence against Liu was that he had called for the establishment of a Chinese “federal republic.” But Hu and other signers contend that term was a “correct slogan” that had been used in the early days of the Chinese Communist Party.
“If the judge violates the constitution and has no knowledge of the history of the party … and makes false and incorrect accusations that will seriously tarnish the image of the country and the party, then it’s difficult to prove that China is a country ruled by law and a harmonious society,” said the letter.
A woman who answered the phone at Hu’s home said he was unavailable and does not accept media interviews.
The other signers were Li Pu, a former deputy chief of the official Xinhua News Agency, and Dai Huang, a former Xinhua senior reporter.
A woman who answered the phone at Li’s home said he signed the letter because others asked him to, but she was not clear about other details. A woman at Dai’s home said he was not in Beijing and unavailable to speak to reporters.
Liu, a former Beijing Normal University professor, spent 20 months in jail for joining the 1989 student-led protests in Tiananmen Square, which ended when the government called in the military – killing hundreds, perhaps thousands.
Liu has been the only person arrested over the charter, but rights groups said several signers had been harassed or fired from their jobs.