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 centres in 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
Notes to Editors
- There are at least thirty-five writers detained in the People’s Republic of China.
- Numbers of detainees have remained largely unchanged in spite of government commitments to human rights and press freedom in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games.
- Prison conditions are poor, with high levels of ill-health, a lack of access to medical care and family visits, and harassment.
- PEN was instrumental in the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize 2010 to writer Liu Xiaobo, who was arrested on 8 December 2008 and sentenced to eleven years in prison on 25 December 2009.
- There has been a rise in the numbers of bloggers detained concurrent with the rise in the use of the internet and corresponding government surveillance and suppression of the electronic media.
- Last year harassment against human rights defenders and activists stepped up in response to anonymous calls for ‘Jasmine Revolution’ protests. Over one hundred human rights defenders and activists have since been arbitrarily detained, harassed or intimidated, including several writers.
- English PEN would normally host Market Focus authors selected by the British Council in the PEN Literary Cafe. However, this year English PEN will not be providing a platform to the authors included in this programme as it has been produced in partnership with GAPP (Administration of Press and Publication of the People’s Republic of China – GAPP-PRC), the official government agency responsible for the regulation and administration of all Chinese publishing, including the issuing of publication licenses and the active censorship and banning of books in China.
- English PEN will continue to host a programme of British and international authors at the English PEN Literary Cafe during all three days of the fair, April 16-18. English PEN will include Bi Feiyu, an ‘Author of the Day’ at London Book Fair, in the PEN Cafe programme, having supported one of his books in the past. English PEN will also include Jung Chang, who is not forming part of the official programme, in the PEN Cafe.
- In order to give a wider platform to dissident and exiled voices, English PEN held ‘China Inside Out’, a major event featuring dissident and exiled Chinese writers such as Ma Jian and Chen Xiwo, at the Free Word Centre on 29 March.
PEN is calling for:
- the release of all writers in prison in China; and
- an end to the harassment and censorship of those who dare to speak out.