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Since China hosted the 2008 Beijing Olympics—games it had secured by pledging to the world to expand protections for the human rights of its citizens—the Chinese government has carried out successive crackdowns on its citizens’ right to freedom of expression, beginning with Liu Xiaobo’s detention on 8 December 2008. Liu was arrested for his role in publishing Charter 08, a document calling for political reform that he and 302 co-signers planned to release two days later, on International Human Rights Day. The document quickly garnered widespread support, and now has over 10,000 signatories from throughout China, many of whom have suffered reprisals.

When the Nobel announcement was made in mid-October 2010, restrictions were tightened further. Liu’s wife Liu Xia, a poet and photographer, was placed under strict house arrest at her home in Beijing, where she remains detained incommunicado and is denied any contact with the outside world. At the December 2010 Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo, Liu Xiaobo’s medal and diploma were presented to an empty chair.

In February 2011, another wave of repression swept the country, targeting dissent thought to have been inspired by the revolutions in the Middle East. Police stepped up their harassment of human rights defenders and activists across the country in response to anonymous calls for ‘Jasmine Revolution’ protests. Many were briefly detained, harassed, summoned or place under house arrest, and a number of prominent PEN members in China were amongst those targeted. The level of surveillance many still face remains stifling.

For the past four years since Liu’s arrest PEN International has been involved in a sustained and ongoing campaign for his release and to promote the right to free expression in China. PEN stands firm in its resolve to secure the release of Liu Xiaobo and all writers who remain behind bars or silenced in China today, in flagrant violation of its own laws and the international treaties which it has ratified.

Additional Resources

LIU XIAOBO: Case background Liu Xiaobo was arrested on 8 December 2008 and held under ‘residential surveillance’, a form of pre-trial detention, at an undisclosed location in Beijing until he was formally charged on 23 June 2009 with ‘spreading rumours and defaming the government, aimed at subversion of the state and overthrowing the socialism system in recent years’. He was sentenced to eleven years in prison on 25 December 2009. The verdict offered as evidence seven phrases that he penned from 2005 until his detention—all either quotations from his many essays or from Charter 08, which Liu had helped draft.

Liu Xiaobo first received support from PEN International in 1989, when he was one of a group of writers and intellectuals given the label the “Black Hands of Beijing” by the government and arrested for their part in the Tiananmen Square protests. Prior to his current arrest, Liu has spent a total of five years in prison, including a three year sentence passed in 1996, and has suffered frequent short arrests, harassment and censorship.

For more samples of his writings and other resources, go to the PEN America website.

For further information please contact Cathy McCann at International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: cathy.mccann@pen-internationalpen.org