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Leading Chinese dissident charged with 'inciting subversion'

The arrest of writer Liu Xiaobo fits a pattern of increasingly harsh measures against independent voices, human rights groups say.

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Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo in 1995.

Will Burgess/Reuters/File

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China's best-known dissident was formally arrested on Wednesday, after more than six months in secret detention.

Liu Xiaobo, an internationally respected writer, was accused of "inciting subversion," the state news agency, Xinhua, reported. The charge carries a maximum 15-year jail term.

Mr. Liu's formal arrest fits a pattern of increasingly harsh measures by the authorities against independent voices, human rights groups say. Earlier this month, nearly 20 civil rights lawyers lost the right to practice when their licenses were not renewed.

"Tolerance of dissent is lower," says Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based China analyst with Human Rights Watch. "We are in the biggest cycle of political tightening we have seen for many years."

Never charged, until now

Though Liu has spent nearly six years in jail, spread over three spells, he has never before been formally charged with any crime.

The police have not said why Liu was detained last December, nor why he was charged Wednesday, but his detention appears linked to his role as one of the original signatories of Charter 08. That was a call for bold political reforms that would lead to democracy in China. It was published on the Internet the day after Liu's arrest.

'Inciting subversion'

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