On 15 November 2010, PEN International’s Day of Writers in Prison, Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC) announced two imprisoned writers, LIU Xianbin in China and Zarganar in Burm, were honored as first laureates of its Liu Xiaobo Courage to Write Award for their long-term tenacity and courage in writing regardless of repeated imprisonments.
The Liu Xiaobo Courage to Write Award was the “Writers in Prison Award” created in 2006, which honored 1-2 individuals annually. The former laureates are YANG Tongyan, ZHANG Lin, LÜ Gengsong, DU Daobin and XU Zerong. This year, it is named for the commemoration of the courage in writing manifested over last 20 years by Dr. Liu Xiaobo, ICPC’s honorary and former President who has now been condemned to a severe sentence of 11 years in prison as well as for his constant support to this award. Dr Liu Xiaobo is also one of 50 cases featured by the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN in its 50th anniversary campaign, Because Writers Speak Their Minds, and he is now honored the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010.
LIU Xianbin, aged 42, is a freelance writer in Suining, Sichuan Province. While studying at the Chinese People’s University in Beijing in 1989, he participated in the students-led pro-democratic movement, for which he was imprisoned for two and half years and expelled from the university. After his release, he engaged in freelance writing as well as in human rights and pro-democracy activities, for which in 1999 he was arrested again and sentenced to 13 years imprisonment on “subverting state power”. After having served his sentence of 9 years and 4 months, he was released on 6 November 2008. Regardless the risk under the police surveillance during an additional punishment of his deprivation of political rights for three years, he joined as one of 03 initiators the signatories of Charter 08 co-launched by Dr. Liu Xiaobo. After Dr. Liu Xiaobo had been detained on 8 December, Liu Xianbin had no fear of the gradually tightened suppression, constantly maintained his very courage to writer and continuously published numerous series, such as, “The Hundred Days After My Imprisonment”, “The Baptism of Blood and Fire: My Experiences in 1989”, “Impressions from the Democrats”, “The Letter in Prison”, and “My Two Decades of Pro-democracy Activism”. After Dr. Liu Xiaobo had been sentenced on 25 December 2009, he published an article, The Choice of A Civil Road in the Wake of Liu Xiaobo’s Heavy Sentence”, emphasizing, “Liu Xiaobo is well worthy of his imprisonment. Although sacrificing his personal freedom and happiness, he has wakened up thousands of the citizens to stand up courageously. This is Liu Xiaobo’s major historical achievement, and his name will remain in history”;” At this moment, we should heal our hearts of grief and indignation emotions as soon as possible, re-pick up our confidence and enthusiasm, and continue to advance along the road of rational struggle that Liu Xiaobo has upheld.” On 28 June 2010, Liu Xianbin was rearrested by the Public Security Bureau of Suining City, Sichuan Province on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”. On 25 March 2011, he was convicted as charged and sentenced by the Intermediate People’s Court of Cuining City to 10 years imprisonment and 2 years-4months deprivation of political rights. Liu Xianbin was honored among others the ninth “Human Rights Award for Chinese Youth” by a jury the former students of “1989 Generation” in exile.
Zarganar, aged 49 and born as MAUNG Thura, is Burma’s best known comedian and satirist. He is versatile of actor, director, singer, musician, writer and poet. Because of his long-standing criticism of Burma’s military regime, Zarganar has been imprisoned 4 times for eight years in total since October 1988 when he was jailed for half a year for his participation in the protests against the massacre by the military coup, and now are still serving his 35 years sentence in prison since he was arrested in 2008. In May 2006, he was banned indefinitely from performances and entertainment activities in the country for his interview with the BBC regarding government regulations on the thingyan water festival, and for being accused of creating a TV commercial that stated Taiwan is a country. As a result, his wife and two children went to exile in USA, while he remained to uphold his writing and humanitarian activities in Burma. In September 2007, when there was a outbreak of the Burmese monks-led mass demonstrations against the military regime, known as “Saffron Revolution”, Zarganar was one of its few secular leaders. He was detained for three weeks as a result of the regime’s crackdown. In May 2008, the disaster of Cyclone Nargis in Burma shocked the world by leaving dead over a hundred of thousands of people and millions homeless. Zarganar personally organized the hundreds of individuals in Burmese arts and film communities to participate in rescue activities and oversaw the delivery of support to the distant villages. In the course of his visits, he was angered both by the military’s neglect and what he perceived as the corrupting effect of international donor funds on local Burmese ‘volunteers’. For his criticism of the cyclone relief efforts, he was arrested on 4 June 2008. In November, he was sentenced to 59 years in prison, convicted of “public order offenses”, under four sections of the criminal code—17/2, 32 (b), 295 (a) and 505 (b), much more than the anticipated maximum of two years. This sentence was reduced to 35 years in February 2009. His parents, who had relied on him for support, have both died during his current imprisonment but he was unable to attend their funerals. According to recent news, he is currently unable to receive family visits having stood up for the rights of a fellow political prisoner, to the annoyance of the Prison Governor. Zarganar has received a number of international literary and human rights awards, including England PEN/Pinter Prize and PEN Canada’s One Humanity Award.