China Campaign

In March 2008, English PEN, in conjunction with International PEN and national PEN centres across the globe, launched its ‘China Campaign 2008: We Are Ready for Freedom of Expression’. PEN’s campaign challenged the Chinese authorities to grant early release to dozens of writers, journalists and bloggers imprisoned in China as a result of publishing their opinions in print or online. When bidding for the Olympic Games, a number of promises were made to the IOC and international community, concerning improvement of human rights and freedom of the press in particular. However, significant improvements in the freedom to write in China were sadly not seen before the Games began, nor during them, and there are now more writers in prison than when our campaign began.

English PEN are therefore determined to continue to put pressure on the Chinese authorities to release those imprisoned in violation of their right to free expression, and as such will continue our China Campaign throughout 2009. To get involved, please click here.


2009 is a year of great significance to the Chinese people, as the 1 October marks the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic. Furthermore, 2009 also marks both the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre (4 June) and the 50th anniversary of Tibet’s uprising against Chinese rule (10 March). As such we can expect to see further civil unrest throughout the country.  For more information on the anticipated unrest, please click here.

Furthermore, China continues to have the largest number of writers in prison of any country, in absolute terms, and, though the number may seem small relative to the size of the Chinese population, these cases have had an overall chilling effect on other writers in China, where there is widespread censorship and self-censorship. The suffering experienced by the prisoners and their families is also beyond measure in terms of simple statistics.

PEN firmly maintains the belief that the detention of our Chinese colleagues constitutes a violation of their fundamental human right to free expression. Many of those writers on behalf of whom we have launched this campaign were convicted following unfair trials, under vaguely-defined laws, and were given disproportionately heavy sentences. Many also require early release on medical and humanitarian grounds, and must be granted their basic human rights in detention – including access to visitors and urgent medical attention.

PEN will also continue to seek an end to other abuses and obstacles hampering the freedom to write in China, such as ‘soft detention’ (house arrest), surveillance, travel bans, and bureaucratic measures to undermine independent publishing houses. The laws used to regulate the press and publishing industry in China still require urgent reform, and the two main criminal laws under which writers are convicted and imprisoned need to be both revised and more fairly and narrowly applied. (Click here to read more about the two main laws used to imprison Chinese writers.)
Tibetan and Uighur writers in China remain doubly vulnerable. Like other Chinese writers they are subject to censorship and an arbitrary judicial system, but, as members of religious and ethnic minorities, they are particularly targeted as victims of cultural repression. Any expression of their cultural diversity has become regarded as potential treason, and those who express separatist views are severely punished. As such, English PEN will be working closely with other NGO’s and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the hope of gaining unfettered access for both the media and medics in both regions, particularly Tibet in advance of this year’s significant anniversary. (Read more about Uighur Rights and Writers and Tibetan Rights and Writers.)





    DOLMA KYAB                          


       SHI TAO



To read Hari Kunzru’s recent article, ‘China: Handle with care’, please click here


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