Five years ago, on 8 December 2008, writer, political activist and former President of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, Liu Xiaobo was arrested and subsequently imprisoned. At the time of his arrest, he was calling for peaceful political reform, greater human rights and multi-party democracy in China, articulated in Charter 08, a manifesto originally signed by more than 300 Chinese writers and intellectuals.
PEN International, the worldwide organisation of writers, is reiterating its call for Liu’s immediate and unconditional release.
“Liu was detained two days before the intended publication of Charter 08, which declared that the provision in the China’s Criminal Law concerning “the crime of incitement to subvert state power” must be abolished.” said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee.
“On 25 December 2009, that exact provision was used to convict Liu to the 11-year sentence he is currently serving. The declaration in the Charter, “We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes” remains one of the most powerfully simple indictments of the practices of the government of China against its citizens.”
In October 2010, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his continued, non-violent struggle for freedom of expression and human rights. In prison and unable to collect the prize, he was represented by an Empty Chair – a symbol used by PEN to remember imprisoned writers at its meetings – at the award ceremony in Oslo on 10 December 2010.
His wife, Liu Xia, was placed under strict house arrest in the days following the announcement of the award. More than three years later she remains held incommunicado without charge at her home in Beijing.
On 6 December 2012, Associated Press (AP) journalists penetrated her compound and spoke to her. In the interview she described her house arrest as more “absurd and unbelievable” than a Kafka novel. The Chinese authorities have consistently denied that she is detained.
As the fifth anniversary of Liu Xiaobo’s arrest approaches, security appears to be tightening around her. This has led to increased concern regarding the mental health of Liu Xia, who is reportedly suffering from depression.
The imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo and house arrest of his wife, Liu Xia, is emblematic of the continued crackdown on voices of dissent in the country. China has increasingly adopted invasive and insidious techniques of monitoring and surveillance, coupled with harsh punishment for those who defy censorship rules.
Many other writers, bloggers and journalists are also in prison, and more recently the Chinese authorities have stepped up measures to prevent critical reporting by blocking access to news sites that question the government and its business practices and refusing to confirm visa renewals for foreign correspondents who will have to leave the country if their visas are not extended.
PEN International believes that these latest restrictions on websites and signs that foreign reporters may not be welcome are yet more signals of the unwillingness of the Chinese authorities to allow dissent, particularly when they pertain to investigations into officials and associated issues of transparency and accountability.
PEN International has continuously campaigned for the release of Liu Xiaobo and protested the extra-judicial detention of Liu Xia and has long called for freedom of speech in the country. In December 2012, PEN International and Front Line Defenders launched an international campaign calling on writers and human rights defenders worldwide to take action during the first week of March 2013 to coincide with the political leadership transition in China.
In May 2013, PEN International launched The PEN Report: Creativity and Constraint in Today’s China – a candid assessment of the climate of freedom of expression in the country and called on China’s new leaders to respect and protect free expression.
On the fifth anniversary of Liu Xiaobo’s arrest PEN International demands the immediate and unconditional release of Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xia and all those detained in China for exercising their basic right to freedom of expression.
For more information please contact Cathy McCann, Asia Researcher, Writers in Prison Committee: firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.pen-international.org ; Tel: +44 (0) 207 405 0338
PEN International celebrates literature and promotes freedom of expression. Founded in 1921, our global community of writers now comprises 144 Centres spanning more than 100 countries. Our programmes, campaigns, events and publications connect writers and readers for global solidarity and cooperation. PEN International is a non-political organization and holds consultative status at the United Nations and UNESCO. http://www.pen-international.org