As the London Book Fair opens on Monday 16 April, at least 35 writers are in prison in China. Some are serving sentences of up to twenty years. All are being detained for what they have written or said.
PEN International is devoted to literature and freedom of expression, and speaks for tens of thousands of members in 144 PEN Centres over 100 countries. The founding centre, English PEN, is based in London and will have a major presence at London Book Fair on 16-18 April.
It is a deep disappointment to everyone in PEN that although China will be the focus for the London Book Fair we will not be hearing the voices of those in prison, or the many others who live in exile. One detainee is the former President of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC) and Nobel Laureate, Liu Xiaobo, who was arrested on 8 December 2008 and sentenced to eleven years in prison on 25 December 2009.
And the repression continues. Since 16 February 2011 police have stepped up their harassment of human rights defenders and activists across the country, apparently in response to anonymous calls for ‘Jasmine Revolution’ protests. Over one hundred human rights defenders and activists have been arbitrarily detained, harassed or intimidated. They include writer Zhu Yufu, a member of the ICPC, who was arrested in April 2011 and handed down a seven-year prison sentence on 10 February 2012 for his allegedly ‘subversive’ poem ‘It’s Time’.
PEN sees events such as the London Book Fair as highly important opportunities for exchange between those with diverse views. This is particularly so in the case of China where free expression is heavily curtailed. PEN hopes that over the coming days, ways will be found to not only to celebrate Chinese literature but also to examine the suppression of free speech in China.
For PEN International please contact Cathy McCann, Asia Researcher on 0207 405 0338
For English PEN please contact Robert Sharp, Head of Campaigns & Communications: 07790 420011