Writers call for China dissident's release

BEIJING Wed Jan 21, 2009 12:16am EST

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BEIJING (Reuters) - An international writers' organization has called for the release of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, detained after he helped write a pro-democracy manifesto.

Writers including Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Chinese novelist Ha Jin and Jung Chang, whose family autobiography "Wild Swans" was followed by a critical biography of Mao Zedong, were among the 300 who signed the call for Liu's release, writers group International PEN said on Wednesday.

Liu has been in detention since shortly before the December release of Charter 08, which was signed by 300 Chinese dissidents and intellectuals. It called for greater rights for Chinese, direct elections and political and fiscal reforms.

He is being detained at an undisclosed location outside of Beijing, under conditions known as residential surveillance, that would allow him to kept for up to six months.

That means Liu could be in detention past June 4, the 20th anniversary of a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in and around Tiananmen Square. Liu was jailed for several years previously for his involvement in the 1989 protests.

Mention of Charter 08 is sponged from Chinese websites and chatrooms, but thousands of people have nonetheless forwarded the text or signed it online.

Other original signatories say they have been questioned repeatedly by police regarding the manifesto, their signatures, and Liu's role in its preparation. Only Liu has been detained for an extended period of time.

The investigation has focused on who actually signed the manifesto, while offering an opportunity for others whose names appear but who deny signing to recant.

Liu was allowed a New Year's Day lunch with his wife and two policeman, but has not otherwise been allowed to meet his lawyer or family. In principle, the detention terms allow him to do so.

"He was unshaven, and to me he looked a little thinner," Liu's wife, Liu Xia, said last week. "We could only really discuss family matters during lunch."

(Reporting by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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