December 9, 2015

PEN urges Chinese government to free dissident poets Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia



Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia (Image via Pen International)

PEN International has called (once again) for the Chinese government to release poet and human rights advocate Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced in 2008 to eleven years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power.” The sentence followed the poet’s contribution to the manifesto Charter ’08, which called for democratic reform throughout China.

PEN has also called for the release of poet and artist Liu Xia, Liu Xiaobo’s wife, who has never been charged with anything but has nonetheless been under illegal house arrest since Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2010. This punishment, PEN believes, “is intended as punishment for the human rights work carried out by her husband.”

The statement continues with PEN International President Jennifer Clement writing,

Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia represent the many critical voices across China currently being silenced. Their words reverberate across the globe and we will continue to fight for their freedom until China heeds our call. They may be imprisoned but we will not let them be silenced.

Salil Tripathi, who chairs PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, contributes the following:

In any other country, Liu Xiaobo would be considered a national treasure and honoured. In China, however, he remains in jail. His crime, if it can be called a crime, is to demand the freedoms for all Chinese that are enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights but which the Chinese state continues to deny him and many others. China wants to be considered a major international power. To meet those aspirations it must release him, other writers and political prisoners.

The note landed yesterday with signatures from big-name writers like Margaret Atwood, Ian Rankin, and Yann Martel, as well as other figures from the literary-activist world—but will it be enough to provoke action from the government that considers human rights advocacy such as Liu Xiaobo’s to be criminal? (and that considers the Nobel Prize committee that awarded Xiaobo to be blasphemers)?

Even an optimist would be skeptical—which only stresses the need for renewed effort.


Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.