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Chinese Protesters Call for Legal Reforms, Human Rights


A group of Chinese human rights advocates marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with a small demonstration and an open letter that has already brought trouble to some of the more than 300 signatories.

About 30 Chinese marked the international human rights anniversary, with a small protest demanding redress from the government for human rights violations. They demonstrated in front of China's Foreign Ministry building in Beijing.

They chose the location because they believe the foreign ministry is taking the lead role in formulating China's human rights action plan.

After about an hour of demonstrations that included crying, shouting and kneeling down on the ground, police herded protesters onto a bus and whisked them away.

This small-scale action comes at the same time a diverse group of Chinese issued an open letter calling for legal reforms, democracy and greater human rights protection in China.

The document has been dubbed the 08 Charter, and has been distributed both domestically and internationally. Its signatories include writers, lawyers, journalists, retired Communist Party officials, workers, peasants and businessmen.

Even before the letters release date, Chinese authorities on Monday detained two of the signers, Zhang Zhuhua and Liu Xiaobo. Zhang was released Tuesday. Liu is still in detention.

Bob Dietz, of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, is especially concerned with Liu, who is a former journalist.

"There was this open letter, a few hundred people signed. I think that just pushes the limit too far. And plus, it was distributed internationally," said Dietz. "I think the government gets particularly angry at people who take these issues outside of China."

Human rights advocates believe Chinese government heavy-handedness, with respect to issues like legal reform and democracy will become worse, as the effects of the global financial crisis deepen in China.

"That's exacerbating the problems of labor, the environment, massive layoffs," said Sharon Hom, who is with the New York-based group Human Rights in China. "So, I think that's putting a lot of pressure too on the authorities because the unrest and the demonstrations are now rising."

And she says she expects the crackdown to continue into next year, because of many sensitive and significant anniversaries. These include the 20th anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Square crackdown, the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama's flight into exile and the 60th anniversary of the founding of modern China.

China's official Xinhua news agency this week ran a lengthy article on China's human rights situation. Wang Chen, the director of China's State Council Information office, told Xinhua that China has seen great improvements in human rights, in 30 years of social reform. But he acknowledged there are still many human rights problems, including social inequality and weakness in the country's political structure.

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