FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more information contact:
Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105
New York City, December 27, 2011—PEN American Center reacted angrily to the news that the Chinese government has again used the cover of the year-end holidays to try and sentence two writers to long prison terms for essays they published on overseas websites, calling the timing of the convictions “deliberate and cynical.”
In an eerie replay of the 2009 trial of Liu Xiaobo, which took place two days before Christmas and which ended in the announcement of an 11-year prison term on Christmas Day, writer Chen Wei was tried Friday in the city of Suining in southwestern China on charges of “inciting subversion” for seven passages in four essays criticizing the Chinese political system and praising the development of civil society. Chen, a co-signer of Charter 08 who was detained in February during a crackdown sparked by fears of an Arab spring-style “Jasmine revolution,” was convicted in a two-hour, closed-door proceeding and sentenced immediately to nine years in prison. Like Liu Xianbin, sentenced by the same court nine months ago, Chen Wei is an honoray member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, and he was the recipient of the center’s 2011 Liu Xiaobo Courage to Write Award at the center’s annual meeting in Hong Kong in July.
Three days later, on Monday, December 26, freelancer writer and human rights activist Chen Xi was tried for inciting subversion in Guiyang City in Huizhou Province, also for a handful of sentences from his essays published online outside of China. Chen Xi had been detained less than a month earlier, on November 29, when police raided his home and confiscated his computer, and was sentenced to a 10-year prison term with an additional three years’ deprivation of political rights. Both Chen Wei and Chen Xi are prominent activists who have been jailed for long stretches in the past for their peaceful political activism.
“Once more the Chinese regime has chosen to darken the holiday season with a reminder of its fear of independent thought,” PEN American Center President Kwame Anthony Appiah said today. “We salute the extraordinary courage of those Chinese, like Chen Wei, Chen Xi, and Liu Xiaobo, who love their country enough to risk long-term incarceration for speaking out against a government that betrays the hopes of the Chinese people every day.”
“The Chinese Communist Party daily faces unrest that is the result of the unrestrained abuse of power in the provinces,” Appiah added, noting that the same day Chen Wei was being convicted in a secret proceeding, Chinese police were firing teargas at residents protesting the expansion of a power plant in Haimen in southeastern China. “When will officials grasp that the only way to destroy the boil of corruption is the healing lance of free commentary?”
PEN American Center Freedom to Write and International Programs Director Larry Siems urged the world to protest both the convictions and the pattern of clustering such trials around the end-of-the year holidays. “Hustling people through closed-door trials on charges that clearly abridge the right to freedom of expression is not conduct that stands up well to international scrutiny,” Siems said. “We must make clear to Chinese authorities that we are watching the cases of Chen Wei and Chen Xi, and that there is no free pass for abuses carried out in haste during the holidays.”
PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of PEN International, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession. For more information on PEN’s work, please visit www.pen.org