Launch of China Campaign 2008: We Are Ready for Free Expression

On Saturday 1 March 2008, English PEN launched its ‘China Campaign 2008: We Are Ready for Free Expression’, in conjunction with other PEN centres around the world.

This campaign challenges the Chinese Government to grant early release to the forty writers, journalists and bloggers who are currently imprisoned in China because of peacefully expressing their views in print or online – by far the largest number imprisoned in any country.

So long as they remain detained, it also seeks improvement in their treatment, including access to urgent medical care for those who are victims of abuse in prison and now seriously unwell, such as Xu Wei, Jin Haike, Yang Zili and Zhang Honghai.

‘Though the number in prison might seem relatively small compared to the vast scale of the Chinese population, the persecution of a few dozen dissident writers, side by side with political intimidation, has an overall chilling effect on critical thinking, writing and publishing in China,’ said Lisa Appignanesi, President of English PEN.

‘Fear of detention leads to widespread self-censorship,’ adds Carole Seymour-Jones, Chair of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee. ‘Only the brave few dare flout China’s repressive laws.’

In August 2007, the Chinese government launched a major publicity offensive for the Olympics under the slogan ‘We Are Ready’. The writers’ campaign, however, reminds the British public that China continues to deny many of its citizens the fundamental right to freedom of expression, and that this breaks the promises the Chinese Government made to the international community at the time of bidding for the Olympic Games. Liu Jingmin, Vice President of China’s Olympic Bid Committee, for example, claimed that ‘by allowing Beijing to host the Games you will help the development of human rights’. Instead, the Chinese security apparatus has cynically used the charge of ‘inciting subversion aginst State power’ against those, like the blogger Hu Jia, critical of social problems linked to the preparations for the Games in recent weeks.

‘China has so much it could proudly show the world this August, if only the CCP would realise that its attempts to silence peaceful dissent and diversity are ultimately counter-productive,’ said Jonathan Heawood, Director of English PEN. ‘As long as it thinks it needs to give a ten-year sentence to a short-story writer from Xinjiang just because he published an allegory about the discrimination against the Uighur people, China is not “ready” to accept free expression.’

Throughout the course of the year, English PEN’s members will be:
• Writing letters and sending books directly to Chinese writers in prison and protesting to the Chinese authorities on their behalf;
• Organising events and demonstrations to highlight censorship in China;
• Promoting dissident and censored Chinese writing;
• Calling on the British Government, the British Olympic Association and others to hold China accountable to its promises on human rights and media freedom.


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