- Fri, 12/09/2016 - 23:09
Friday 9 December 2016 19.01 EST
Salman Rushdie, JM Coetzee, Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman are among more than 120 authors and activists calling on Chinese president Xi Jinping to reverse his government’s fierce crackdown on writers and dissidents.
The number of detained and imprisoned writers in China is among the highest in the world. In an open letter released by freedom of speech group PEN International, and published in the Guardian on World Human Rights Day, the signatories condemn the constriction of freedom of expression by Chinese authorities and say they “cannot stand by as more and more of our friends and colleagues are silenced”.
The letter, which is also signed by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Yann Martel, singles out the cases of several individuals, including Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, who is serving 11 years in prison; Liu’s wife, the poet Liu Xia, who has lived under house arrest in Beijing since 2010 despite never being accused of a crime; Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, who is currently serving a life sentence in prison; journalist Gao Yu, who is currently under house arrest after serving almost two years in prison; and Gui Minhai, one of the five booksellers and publishers who disappeared in late 2015 after the Causeway Bay Bookstore in Hong Kong was raided for selling sensitive titles about Chinese politicians.
While the other four men have since been released on bail, Gui, a Swedish citizen, has not been seen publicly since January when he made a brief, tearful “confession” on state television about a hit-and-run accident in 2003. Gui’s daughter, Angela Gui told the Guardian that the Swedish embassy had told her they had seen her father in Beijing in March.
The letter also calls for the release of imprisoned members of the Independent Chinese PEN centre. Three ICPC members were detained for praying to commemorate the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, while seven other members are currently in prison, including former president of the ICPC Liu Xiaobo.
“The enforced silence of these friends and colleagues is deafening, and the disappearance of their voices has left a world worse off for this egregious injustice and loss,” the letter reads.
In June, ICPC members Lü Gengsong and Chen Shuqing were sentenced to more than 10 years each in prison, on charges of subversion for publishing pro-democracy essays on foreign websites, as well as promoting the banned Chinese Democratic Party. The two members were sentenced in Hangzhou, the eastern Chinese city that hosted the G20 in September. The harshness of their sentencing was attributed to a wider crackdown on writers and intellectuals in the lead-up to the global event. Since he came to power, Xi has overseen Operation Fox Hunt, repatriating Chinese fugitives abroad and bringing them to the mainland to face charges, usually of corruption.
“Today we call for their words to reverberate across the globe as we commit to fighting for their freedom until China heeds our call. On days like today, we have to reaffirm our refusal not to be complicit in their silence. We have to use our own words to give power to theirs,” the letter states.
“China and the rest of the world can only be enriched by these opinions and voices. We therefore urge the Chinese authorities to release the writers, journalists, and activists who are languishing in jail or kept under house arrest for the crime of speaking freely and expressing their opinions.”