CHINA: PEN honours imprisoned writers on International Human Rights Day

Share on Google+

PEN International

10 December 2011 (International Human Rights Day) marks the first anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to our colleague Liu Xiaobo, former president of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC). One year on, he and over thirty other writers remain in prison in China, and many more suffer ‘soft’ detention, surveillance, and censorship. PEN International demands their immediate and unconditional release, and calls upon its members to use this anniversary to publicise the deteriorating human rights climate in the People’s Republic of China and to express solidarity with their imprisoned colleagues.

Since China hosted the 2008 Beijing Olympics—games it had secured by pledging to the world to expand protections for the human rights of its citizens—the Chinese government has carried out successive crackdowns on its citizens’ right to freedom of expression, beginning with Liu Xiaobo’s detention on 8 December 2008. Liu was arrested for his role in publishing Charter 08, a document calling for political reform that he and 302 co-signers planned to release two days later, on International Human Rights Day. The document quickly garnered widespread support, and now has over 10,000 signatories from throughout China, many of whom have suffered reprisals.

When the Nobel announcement was made in mid-October 2010, restrictions were tightened further. Liu’s wife Liu Xia, a poet and photographer, was placed under strict house arrest at her home in Beijing, where she remains detained incommunicado and is denied any contact with the outside world. At the December 2010 Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo, Liu Xiaobo’s medal and diploma were presented to an empty chair.

In February 2011, another wave of repression swept the country, targeting dissent thought to have been inspired by the revolutions in the Middle East. Police stepped up their harassment of human rights defenders and activists across the country in response to anonymous calls for ‘Jasmine Revolution’ protests. Many were briefly detained, harassed, summoned or place under house arrest, and a number of prominent PEN members in China were amongst those targeted. The level of surveillance many still face remains stifling.

For the past three years since Liu’s arrest PEN International has been involved in a sustained and ongoing campaign for his release and to promote the right to free expression in China. PEN stands firm in its resolve to secure the release of Liu Xiaobo and all writers who remain behind bars or silenced in China today, in flagrant violation of its own laws and the international treaties which it has ratified. Show your support by taking part in at least one of the following actions over the coming days.


PEN Centres are urged to write appeals and stage events during the five days from 8-13 December to publicise the deteriorating human rights situation in China.

Appeals to Chinese Embassies:

• Send appeals demanding the immediate and unconditional release of dissident writer Liu Xiaobo and all those detained in China in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory, and Article 35 of its own constitution.
• WiPC strongly recommends that you send or, if possible, personally deliver the appeal to the Chinese embassy in your country asking them to forward it to the Chinese authorities and welcoming any comments – see below for guidance.
• To achieve the greatest impact, appeals should be sent in the five days from 8-13 December (please check with this office if sending appeals later than 31 December 2011).

Press and Publicity

• Stage a reading and/or write articles for publication in the press to celebrate Liu and his work. The poem ‘To Xia’, included in Liu Xiaobo’s forthcoming book No Enemies No Hatred: Selected Essays and Poems, is available to download here. The anthology will be published in English by the Harvard University Press on 16 December 2011.
• Please remember to let the PEN International office know about any actions undertaken, and please send us links to any press coverage so that we can share it with other centres.


• Elect a Chinese writer as an Honorary Member of your Centre and by doing so provide long term support and advocacy for him/her and their family. For details of the International PEN Honorary Membership scheme, read the PEN WiPC Guide to Defending Writers Under Attack (Part V, pgs 15-20). Please let us know if you do so and we will ensure that your Centre is networked with others working on the case.
• Send cards to as many Chinese writers in prison as you can. This has been shown to afford detainees better treatment in prison, as well as providing moral support. A list of main cases and prison addresses is here: List of Main Cases – CHINA – December 2011
• Join the online Empty Chair campaign led by the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial association by placing an empty chair for Liu Xiaobo in front of the Chinese embassy in your country, or in your street, office, library or workplace on 10 December 2011 at 13.18pm. Download a photo to place on your chair. Take a photo of your chair and upload it onto Facebook or email it to [email protected]

Additional Resources

LIU XIAOBO: Case background Liu Xiaobo was arrested on 8 December 2008 and held under ‘residential surveillance’, a form of pre-trial detention, at an undisclosed location in Beijing until he was formally charged on 23 June 2009 with ‘spreading rumours and defaming the government, aimed at subversion of the state and overthrowing the socialism system in recent years’. He was sentenced to eleven years in prison on 25 December 2009. The verdict offered as evidence seven phrases that he penned from 2005 until his detention—all either quotations from his many essays or from Charter 08, which Liu had helped draft.

Liu Xiaobo first received support from PEN International in 1989, when he was one of a group of writers and intellectuals given the label the “Black Hands of Beijing” by the government and arrested for their part in the Tiananmen Square protests. Prior to his current arrest, Liu has spent a total of five years in prison, including a three year sentence passed in 1996, and has suffered frequent short arrests, harassment and censorship.

For more samples of his writings and other resources, go to the PEN America website.
Send appeals to:
His Excellency Hu Jintao
President of the People’s Republic of China
State Council
Beijing 100032
P.R. China

Please note that there are no fax numbers for the Chinese authorities. WiPC recommends that you copy your appeal to the Chinese embassy in your country asking them to forward it and welcoming any comments.

You may find it easier to write to the Chinese ambassador in your own country asking him or her to forward your appeal. Most embassies are obliged to forward such appeals to the relevant officials in the country. A letter or petition signed by an eminent member of your Centre may give make it more likely for your appeal to be considered. Similarly if your appeal is published in your local press and copied to the Chinese ambassador, this too may have greater impact.
See this useful link to find the contact details of the Chinese embassy in your country Chinese embassies abroad

**Please contact the PEN WiPC office in London if sending appeals after 31 December 2011**

For further information please contact Cathy McCann at International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel. + 44 (0) 20 7405 0338 , Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: [email protected]