Liu was secretly arrested in Shanghai in mid-March 2001 while conducting research on social conditions in rural China for the dissident China Democracy Party (CDP). On May 16, 2001, Liu was sentenced to “re-education through labor,” a form of administrative detention that allows officials to send individuals to labor camps for up to three years without trial or formal charges.
After Liu’s arrest, friends and family were not informed of his whereabouts, and CDP members say they only found out what had happened to him when they received news of his sentence in August 2001.
Sentencing papers issued by the Shanghai Re-education Through Labor Committee cited several alleged offenses, including a policy paper and an essay written by Liu that were published under different pen names on the CDP’s Web site. The essay focused on the current situation of China’s peasants. The committee also accused Liu of trying to form an illegal organization, the China Democracy Party Joint Headquarters, Second Front.
The journalist had previously worked as an editor and reporter for various publications, including the magazine Jishu Jingji Yu Guanli (Technology, Economy, and Management), run by the Fujian Province Economic and Trade Committee, and Zhongguo Shichang Jingji Bao (China Market Economy News), run by the Central Party School in the capital, Beijing. Beginning in 1999, he worked for Univillage, a research organization focusing on rural democratization, and managed its Web site. He was working as a freelance journalist at the time of his arrest.