Hong Kong, July 23, 2011
As PEN members from around the world gather to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC) today in Hong Kong, a number of writers residing inside China have been harassed and prevented from meeting with their colleagues both in Beijing and Hong Kong, in what ICPC, PEN American Center, and PEN International call "an increasingly alarming situation for writers and activists in China." At least 40 writers are in prison in China, including four ICPC members.
This is the first time ICPC members and supporters will gather since the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, ICPC's founding member and former and honorary president. However, a number of writers have been prevented from traveling to Hong Kong by mainland Chinese authorities, in a week marked by threats, harassment, and indignities.
Between July 18 and 22, a delegation from PEN American Center and PEN International visited Beijing to meet with a wide range of writers, journalists, and activists. On July 20, however, only three of 14 writers invited to a Freedom of Expression Roundtable at the U.S. Embassy, hosted by Charge d'Affaires Robert Wang, were actually able to attend. Many of the other invitees, including Liu Di ("Stainless Steel Mouse") and Wang Jinbo, were visited the day before by the guobao, the internal security police of the People's Republic of China, and told not to attend--a warning confirmed in writing to the embassy by at least four of the invitees.
The following day, several writers were stopped from meeting with the PEN delegation, and at least six writers have been prevented from attending the 10th anniversary celebrations in Hong Kong. The delegation also was unable to make contact with imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo's wife, Liu Xia, under illegal house arrest since October 2010, and was prevented from meeting with her lawyers.
"As foreigners, we were able to make a journey that our ICPC colleagues cannot make," said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International. "This insidious, flagrant interference of Chinese authorities into the lives of law-abiding citizens is degrading and shameful, in a country that has enshrined freedom of expression in its Constitution."
The three writers able to come to the roundtable, ICPC Board Member Jiang Qisheng, ICPC honorary member and formerly imprisoned writer He Depu, and ICPC's 2009 Lin Zhao Memorial Award recipient, Beijing-based Tibetan writer Woeser, spoke frankly about the ongoing deterioration of rights, including the torture of imprisoned colleagues, and expressed concerns for the Uyghur, Mongolian, and Tibetan minority groups. In other meetings, writers, journalists, and booksellers revealed that even those who are not activists experience constant electronic surveillance and monitoring of their movements.
"To anyone visiting China, it is obvious the country is experiencing great successes," said Larry Siems, director of the Freedom to Write and International programs at American PEN Center, who organized the Beijing visit. "It's also clear there are considerable anxieties and stresses. Unfortunately, all of the writers we spoke with expressed frustration that they were restrained from fully exploring these realities. So much time and talent is being wasted trying to rein in voices that China and the world need to hear."
ICPC, a PEN center with 270 members, more than half of whom reside in mainland China, has never been permitted to publicly hold its annual meeting there, and every year since 2007, a number of ICPC members and other writers have been prevented from traveling to Hong Kong, even to receive awards. Today, at least six writers are known to have been prevented from joining their colleagues in Hong Kong, including Professor Cui Weiping, recipient of the 2011 ICPC Lin Zhao Memorial Award.
"Since ICPC's founding in 2001, we were only able to have our awards ceremony twice in Beijing, in 2004 and 2005 when Liu Xiaobo was our president," said Tienchi Martin Liao, president of ICPC. "Our literary activities are forbidden in China and our members are suffering under enormous pressure. In honor of Liu Xiaobo, ICPC will award its inaugural Liu Xiaobo Courage to Write Award this year. Unfortunately, today we must put three empty chairs on the stage again, because this year's two awardees, Chinese writer Liu Xianbin and Bumese poet Zarganar are both in prison, and Cui Weiping has not been permitted to cross the border."
Liao continued, "It is time for the Chinese government to respect the constitutional right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly of its citizens, and we call on the authorities to allow PEN to hold its meetings in mainland China, and to lift its restrictions on many of PEN members in China and abroad to cross the China's borders to meet our colleagues and families. We are writers and our instrument is nothing but our pen. With our pen, we are determined to protect our basic rights of freedom of expression."
"The PEN community today applauds the courage and dedication of the Independent Chinese PEN Center," said Hori Takeaki, international secretary of PEN International. "We will continue to support your fearless pursuit of the right of the Chinese people to freedom of expression, and their right to read and write in their own languages."
The PEN American Center/PEN International delegation to Beijing was composed of the following: Hannah Pakula, chair of PEN American Center's Freedom to Write Committee; Marian Botsford Fraser, chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International; Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, vice president of PEN International and PEN American Center board member, Steven Isenberg, executive director of PEN American Center, and Larry Siems, director of PEN American Center's Freedom to Write and International programs.
PEN American Center and the Independent Chinese PEN Center are among the 145 centers of PEN International, the world's oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. PEN is following the cases of at least 40 writers imprisoned in China, including four ICPC members (Liu Xiaobo, Yang Tongyan, Shi Tao, and Zhu Yufu), and many more who are subjected to intense surveillance, illegal house arrest, detention without charge, and enforced silence when released.