Another prominent signer of the document, political theorist and activist Zhang Zuhua, was arrested and detained at the same time but was released the next morning after a lengthy interrogation, he said. His house was also searched and belongings confiscated. Zhang said Liu is being detained on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power."
More than 300 Chinese citizens signed the petition, called Charter '08, which began circulating on the Internet on Tuesday morning. They represent a broad swath of Chinese society, including government officials, lawyers, journalists, dissidents, artists and rural leaders, and they come from every corner of the country.
The charter's authors pegged its release to Wednesday's 60th anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it takes aim at faults in China's authoritarian political system. It calls for change in 19 areas, including a new constitution, an independent judiciary, freedom of assembly, election of public officials and stronger guarantees for personal freedoms. The name Charter '08 borrows from the Charter 77 movement in Czechoslovakia in 1977, in which several hundred intellectuals published a daring challenge to Soviet rule.
"We stand today as the only country among the major nations that remains mired in authoritarian politics," the document reads. "Our political system continues to produce human rights disasters and social crises, thereby constricting China's own development but also limiting the progress of all of human civilization. This must change, truly it must. The democratization of Chinese politics can be put off no longer."
Liu, 53, has been jailed before. The former philosophy professor at Renmin University in Beijing and current director of the Independent Chinese PEN Center spent 20 months in jail for his support of the 1989 student protests at Tiananmen Square. In 1996, he was sent to a labor camp for three years for criticizing the Chinese Communist Party. Most recently, he was one of a number of Chinese citizens detained for several days in early July as part of a crackdown on political dissidents before the Beijing Olympics.