A group of eminent Chinese Communist Party veterans is calling for an end to the country's wide-ranging restrictions on free speech.
The call comes just days after the government reacted angrily to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo.
In an open letter posted online, the retired officials state that although China's 1982 constitution guarantees freedom of speech, the right is constrained by laws and regulations that should be scrapped.
"This kind of false democracy of affirming in principle and denying in actuality is a scandal in the history of democracy," said the letter, which was dated Monday and widely distributed by e-mail.
Wang Yongcheng, a retired professor at Shanghai's Jiaotong University who signed the letter, said it had been inspired by the recent arrest of a journalist who wrote about corruption in the resettlement of farmers for a dam project.
"We want to spur action toward governing the country according to law," Wang said.
"If the constitution is violated, the government will lack legitimacy. The people must assert and exercise their legitimate rights," he said.
Coming on top of Liu's Nobel Prize, the letter further spotlights China's tight restrictions on freedom of speech and other civil rights, although Wang said the two events were not directly related.
Work on the letter began several days before the prize was awarded, and drafters decided against including a reference to Liu out of concern the government would block its circulation.
Liu, a 54-year-old literary critic, is now in the second year of an 11-year prison term after being convicted of inciting subversion over his role in writing an influential 2008 manifesto for political reform.