Liu Xiaobo – an exceptional life, always remembered

Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, writer, literary critic and human rights activist spent the last eight years of his life in Jinzhou prison in northeast China, with little or no access to friends, family or colleagues. A former president of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC) and an active PEN member, Liu was arrested in December 2009 and charged with ‘inciting subversion of state power’, with a sentence of 11 years in prison.

His wife – the poet and photographer Liu Xia – was only allowed to visit him once a month under the supervision of prison guards. They would be forced to change the subject if they spoke about anything deemed offensive to the state. Liu Xia herself spent almost the entire duration of her husband’s detention under house arrest, held without charge.

Despite this harsh and unjust treatment, Liu Xiaobo’s continuing message to the outside world was one of peace, hope, and love. His poetry – written from within prison – spoke of his love for his wife and his hope for a China free from discrimination and human rights abuses. He used imagery rooted in nature and transformation, and his verse was rhythmic and lyrical.

At the December 2010 Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo, Liu Xiaobo’s medal and diploma were presented to an empty chair. It is a huge sadness to all of us who knew or were influenced by Liu Xiaobo – his resilient activism, his commitment to justice, his optimism and peaceful heart – that he will never have the opportunity to be recognised in person for all that he has done in the service of others. His empty chair was and remains a deep injustice, but just as he was remembered whilst locked behind bars, he will be remembered by us forever.

As well as sending our thoughts and love to Liu Xiaobo’s family, we are calling on the authorities to grant complete freedom of movement to his wife Liu Xia at this difficult time and going forward.

Below, please find statements from PEN President Jennifer Clement, Executive Director Carles Torner, and Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, as well as a recent message of solidarity from UK Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

‘On this sad day I remember the 2010 image of the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjoern Jagland, sitting beside Liu Xiaobo’s medal and diploma on an empty chair – PEN’s symbol for imprisoned writers.  On that day the world honoured and celebrated Liu Xiaobo’s courage as it does again today. Liu once said, ‘I hope I will be the last victim in China’s long record of treating words as crimes’.  We must continue to uphold his dream.’

– Jennifer Clement, PEN President

‘Jan Patocka wrote that, ‘the real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself, but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him.’ Patocka drafted and signed with Havel the Charter 77 and died after a marathon interrogation by Czech Police; he remains the symbol of freedom for Czechs. Dear Liu Xiaobo, dear PEN colleague, you have died today because of the treatment imposed on you by Chinese authorities after you signed the Charter 2008. Your PEN friends around the world will praise your destiny and your commitment, we will praise you every single day until China will be free.’

– Carles Torner, PEN Executive Director

‘In one of your poems, you write of the ‘cold and indifferent moon’. The same sky with this moon in it reaches over all of us, over you and me, over my freedom and your oppression. What we have in common is as various as our differences, but one of thing we share is our belief in the power of writing to challenge those things that limit, oppress, destroy, and deny. I am sorry that you have experienced this denial, this oppression so directly, but I want you to know that – whilst your punishment has attempted to reduce you – in my eyes you are magnified inside your work, your power, your courage, and your love. Thank you for everything you have done in your fight for a better world.’

– Carol Ann Duffy, UK Poet Laureate

China’s callous treatment of political prisoners and dissidents reached lower depths today with the tragic passing of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo. Liu, a writer, poet, and democracy campaigner, had committed no crime – he wanted the Chinese Government to respect the dignity of Chinese people and uphold their human rights. But his words threatened the authoritarian regime which attempted to silence him by jailing him. His words will resonate and will continue to inspire millions of people in China and beyond, and he will be remembered long after the unelected men temporarily in power are forgotten and, as Liu dreamed and fought for, China will become a democracy.’

 – Salil Tripathi, PEN International Writers in Prison Committee Chair


Join the vigil in London

We will be holding a vigil to mark Liu Xiaobo’s death and to continue calls for his wife Liu Xia to be officially released from house arrest and allowed to travel wherever she chooses. Please join us.

Vigil at the Embassy of China
4.30pm, Friday 14 July
Opposite the Chinese Embassy, 49 Portland Place, London W1B 1JL
Nearest tubes: Great Portland Street, Oxford Circus

Liu Xiaobo – In Memoriam 

Share your thoughts, memories and messages via PEN International’s dedicated website. These will be shared with his loved ones in due course.

LISTEN: Translation Pitch – East and Southeast Asia

English PEN’s PEN Presents initiative seeks to help UK publishers to discover – and publish – the most exciting books from around the world, and to support literary translators in their development as advocates for international literature.

Our Translation Pitch event on 8 June 2017 brought together all six shortlisted translators from our PEN Presents… East and Southeast Asia project: Sophie Bowman, Natascha Bruce, Pingta Ku, Laurel Taylor, Tiffany Tsao and Jason Woodruff.  Each translator read a sample translation from a book they passionately believe should be read by English-language audiences. Panellists Ka Bradley (Granta), Euan Monaghan (Editor, Structo Press) and Deborah Smith (Translator & Founder, Tilted Axis Press) heard the ‘pitches’, questioned the translator-advocates… and then selected a winner.

You can hear each of the translators reading their work, and find out who was declared winner of the Translation Pitch, by listening to a recording of the event via the player below, or on SoundCloud.

Russia: conviction of librarian Natalia Sharina must be quashed

On 5 June 2017, Natalia Sharina, former Director of the state-run Library of Ukrainian Literature in Moscow, was found guilty of ‘incitement of hatred’ towards Russian people and ‘embezzlement’ and handed-down a four-year suspended sentence for holding ‘extremist literature’.

Sharina was arrested in October 2015 after investigators found banned works by Ukrainian nationalist Dmitry Korchinsky in the library she headed. She denied these belonged to the collection and claimed they had been planted. She spent 19 months under house arrest, throughout the investigation and trial, during which time her health seriously deteriorated.

Sharina has appealed her conviction and her next trial hearing is expected to take place in the autumn. PEN believes that the case against Natalia Sharina is politically motivated and calls for her sentence and conviction to be quashed.

For further background information, please visit the PEN International website.


Write to the authorities

Please send appeals:

  • Urging the Russian authorities to quash the conviction and sentence of Natalia Sharina;
  • Calling on them to uphold the rights to freedom of expression and information and to not prosecute librarians over the content of library materials;
  • Urging them to review anti-extremism legislation so that it does not curtail the right to freedom of expression.

Send appeals to:

Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation

Yurii Yakovlevich Chaika
Prosecutor General’s Office
ul. B. Dmitrovka, d.15a
125993 Moscow GSP- 3
Russian Federation

Human Rights Ombudsman of the Russian Federation

Tatiana Nikolaevna Moskalkova
ul. Miasnitskaia, 47
107084, Moscow
Russian Federation

Send copies to the Embassy of Russia in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here:

Please reach out to your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic representatives in Russia, calling on them to raise Natalia Sharina’s case in bilateral fora.

Please inform PEN of any action you take and of any responses you receive – via


PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Natalia Sharina;
  • Reach out to library and information associations and organise joint activities;
  • Share information about Natalia Sharina and your campaigning activities via social media – please include the hashtag #NataliaSharina and tag English PEN (@englishpen) on Twitter.

Bahrain: Nabeel Rajab remains in custody despite worsening health condition

English PEN joins PEN International in urging the Bahraini authorities to stop all criminal proceedings against Nabeel Rajab, ensure the full respect of his rights as a prisoner, and order his immediate and unconditional release.

Rajab, a prominent human rights defender and writer, remains in detention since his arrest on 13 June 2016, in spite of his deteriorating health due to poor prison conditions and mistreatment.

PEN believes Rajab is being detained for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and for his peaceful human rights activities.

Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, said:

It is outrageous that Nabeel Rajab, a peaceful advocate for human rights, is detained again. Bahraini authorities must stop this relentless campaign of harassment and intimidation against him, respect his basic human rights and allow him to return to his family immediately.

Rajab’s poor health prevented him from attending his previous court hearings on 14 June and on 3 July 2017. He is currently in hospital waiting for the next hearing, which is due to take place on 10 July 2017. A verdict is expected at this hearing and Rajab is at risk of receiving up to 3 years’ imprisonment for ‘spreading false news’ in relation to media interviews he gave. Rajab is currently allowed limited contact with his family, with no possibility of communication with his lawyers.

The judge presiding over Rajab’s case has refused all requests submitted by his lawyers to release him, despite the length of his detention period in solitary confinement and clear evidence about the deteriorating condition of his health. According to PEN’s information, he is at risk of being sent back to prison in spite of his bad health and his need for hospitalisation, in order to force his presence at the next hearing. The charges against Rajab are a clear violation of his right to freedom of expression, protected under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bahrain has ratified.

For further background informaiton, please visit the PEN International website.

David Olusoga wins PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize 2017 for Black and British

English PEN has announced that David Olusoga has won the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize 2017 for Black and British: A Forgotten History (Macmillan). The book is a re-examination of the long relationship between the British Isles and the people of Africa and the Caribbean, and was accompanied by a four-part television series, broadcast on BBC Two in November 2016.

The announcement was made yesterday (9 July) at the inaugural Wimpole History Festival at the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire, a collaboration between the National Trust and the Cambridge Literary Festival. Olusoga was short-listed alongside Sarah Bakewell, Jerry Brotton, Susan L. Carruthers, Dan Cruickshank, Frank Dikötter and Tim Whitmarsh.

Awarding the prize, Jean Seaton, chair of the judges, said:

David Olusoga’s Black and British: a Forgotten History is a wonderful read, but it won because it was so surprising. It discovers unexpected stories of black people in Britain, but it is as much about the ebb and flow of how the British have made that story (sometimes negatively, sometimes positively) part of the national narrative. Above all, this story – sometimes shaming and chilling, but equally inspiring and strange – is told with a great calm and curiosity. The tone invites us all to reflect and become part of the reassessment. It is a tremendous achievement.

Accepting the award on Sunday, David Olusoga said:

It has been a bizarre and wonderful experience, to get all these other people’s histories and experiences, and weave them together – with my own very personal stories, but also with a bigger story of this country … No group – no ethnic group, no political group – owns any part of history. Its all of ours, and ours to conquer, and subdue, to make us go crazy.

The judging panel was chaired this year by Professor Jean Seaton, with critic and historian Frances Stonor Saunders and the 2016 winner of the Hessell-Tiltman Prize Nicholas Stargardt.

Photo (L to R): Jean Season, Hannah Trevarthan, David Olusoga and Nicholas Stargardt (Credit: Martin Bond)