ICPC Statement on PEN International Day of Imprisoned Writers

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For Press Release
15 November 2013

Two Writers Honoured the Liu Xiaobo Courage to Write Award

The Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC) has honoured two imprisoned writers, TAN Zuoren and Nguyen Xuan Nghia (Vietnam) the ICPC’s 2013 Liu Xiaobo Courage to Write Award for their long-term tenacity and courage in writing despite the threat of imprisonment. In addition, ICPC have named four writers as new honorary members, including LIU Benqi, XU Zhiyong, LIU Hu and YANG Maodong.

As of the present, six ICPC members are still in jail, including YANG Tongyan, LIU Xiaobo, ZHU Yufu, ZHAO Changqing, ZHANG Lin, and LI Huaping. In addition, 24 of ICPC’s former imprisoned honorary members are still in prison  in China, including KONG Youping, Nurmuhemmet YASIN, QI Chonghuai, XU Wanping, LU Jianhua, GUO Quan, TAN Zuoren, Hailaite Niyazi, LIU Xianbin, CHEN Wei, LI Tie, Memetjan Abdulla, Jangtse Donkho, Buddha, Dokru Tsultrim, WEN Yan, CHEN Xi, GAO Zhisheng, Tashi Rabten, Kunchok Tsephel Gopey Tsang, Kunga Tseyang, Gangkye Drubpa Kyab, RAO Wenwei and LI Bifeng. 62 such former imprisoned honorary members have already been released.

The ICPC’s “Liu Xiaobo Courage to Write Award” was created in 2006 and was previously known as the “Writers in Prison Award”. The laureates from 2006 to 2009 were YANG Tongyan, ZHANG Lin, Lü Gengsong, DU Daobin and XU Zerong. In March 2010, it was renamed after Dr. Liu Xiaobo, the ICPC’s honorary president and former president, to mark his courage in writing manifested over the last 20 years as well as his constant support for this award. Dr. Liu was detained in 8 December 2008 and has been serving a harsh 11 year sentence since 2009. From 2010 to 2012 the laureates of the award were LIU Xianbin, Zarganar (Burma), Hada, QIN Yongmin, CHEN Wei, Dolma Kyab and WU Yilong.
TAN Zuoren, 59, is an environmentalist, writer and former editor of Literati magazine. After the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, he questioned why so many schools collapsed in the quake – in many cases when other buildings around them remained standing. He asked netizens and people who had lost their children in the quake to help compile a detailed database of the victims. He also asked volunteers to help him detail evidence of shoddy construction at the schools. On 28 March 2009, he was detained on allegations of inciting subversion of state power because of an online article published in 2007 entitled “1989: A Witness to the Last Beauty: An Eyewitness’ Tiananmen Square Diary”, in which he criticized the government for its bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. On 12 August 2009, he was tried by the Intermediate People’s Court of Chengdu City. Tan Zuoren said in his final statement at the court, “Everything I do is simply to fulfill my obligations as a citizen and to adhere to common sense and tell the truth.” Tan’s lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, believes that by exposing the extent of the destruction, he would have embarrassed the government. “They took out any mention of the earthquake from the verdict because they are afraid of referring to it,” said Mr Pu. Tan’s wife, who was not allowed to attend court, described the trial as “ridiculous” and a perversion of justice. On 9 February 2010, he was sentenced to 5 years in prison and 3 years deprivation of political rights. On 9 June 2010, the High People’s Court of Sichuan Province rejected the appeal and upheld Tan Zuoren’s sentence. Tan Zuoren is now held in Ya’an Prison in Sichuan Province and is scheduled for release on 27 March 2014.
Nguyen Xuan Nghia is a Vietnamese poet, journalist, essayist and novelist, a member of the Hai Phong Association of Writers and a founding member of the banned democracy movement known as Bloc 8406. He is the editor of the underground democracy journal To Quoc (Fatherland). As a journalist, he wrote for all the main government papers until 2003, when the government banned him because of his pro-democracy activities. On 9 October 2009, after a trial that reportedly lasted just a few hours, Nguyen Xuan Nghia was convicted of conducting anti-government propaganda under Article 88 of Vietnam’s penal code and sentenced to six years in prison. Article 88 forbids “all propaganda against the Communist system of government” as well as “slanderous allegations undermining national security, the social order and the people’s trust in the Party.” The indictment against him, which was dated 3 July 2009, cited 57 pieces written by Nguyen Xuan Nghia from 2007 until his arrest in 2008, including poetry, literature, short stories and articles that allegedly sought to “insult the Communist Party of Vietnam, misrepresent the situation in the country, slander and disgrace the country’s leaders, demand a pluralistic and multiparty system…and incite and attract other people into the opposition movement.” He is amongst dozens of activists to have been arrested since September 2008 as part of an ongoing crackdown on peaceful dissent. On 21 January 2010, an appeals court in the northern port city of Haiphong upheld Nguyen Xuan Nghia’s sentence. Foreign journalists were not permitted to attend the proceedings, which lasted a day. Nguyen Xuan Nghia was initially held at the B14 labour camp in Ha Dong province, south of Hanoi, reportedly in solitary confinement. According to his wife, he was also denied the right to see his family in retaliation for peaceful protests against prison conditions. In March 2012, his family went to visit him, only to discover that he had been transferred to a new detention facility near to the Vietnamese border with Laos, more than 400km from their family home, meaning that his wife’s visits became more difficult and costly. Later that month, his wife was allowed to visit him, but had to travel for two days in order to do so. Returning home from this first visit to the new camp, his wife reported that he was suffering from a number of health complaints, that his morale had been seriously affected and that he had contemplated suicide on a number of occasions. In July 2013, the international community learnt that blogger Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay) had been on hunger strike in prison for the past 30 days in protest against the adverse conditions and treatment he and his fellow inmates were receiving from the jail guards and officers. It was reported that Nguyen Van Hai’s family and the outside world had only learned of this hunger strike because Nguyen Xuan Nghia had selflessly put himself at further risk by informing his wife about the strike during her most recent visit to the prison where the two writers are held. According to reports, the prison guards immediately muffled Nguyen Xuan Nghia and used excessive force to drag him across the floor and out of the visiting area. It was later reported that he had been moved into solitary confinement, and that he was likely to remain there for at least three months. Just a few weeks later, it was reported that this ‘disciplinary punishment’ had been temporarily suspended. However, when his wife visited him briefly she learned that although he was no longer in solitary confinement, he was now in an even more dangerous situation – sharing a cell with a criminal prisoner who is serving a life sentence for spying on China. In September 2013, it was reported that Nguyen Xuan Nghia had been physically attacked by his cell mate. There is now widespread concern for his health and safety.
Each year on 15 November, members of PEN international all over the world commemorate the  “Day of Imprisoned Writers” and honor the courage of our imprisoned colleagues in order to protest against repression and defend freedom of expression. ICPC reiterates that freedom of expression, including the freedom to write and publish, are inalienable and fundamental human rights. ICPC will continue to urge the release of Liu Xiaobo, Tan Zuoren, Yang Tongyan and all those imprisoned for their writings.
PEN International is the world’s oldest human rights organization and international literary organization. ICPC is one of Pen International’s 146 members and aims to protect writers’ freedom of expression and freedom to write worldwide and advocates for the rights of writers and journalists who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted or harassed in China particularly.
For more information, please contact
Yu Zhang, Dr.
Executive Secretary and Coordinator of Press & Translation Committee
Tel: +46-8-50022792 email: [email protected], [email protected]