10 December 2011 (International Human Rights Day) marks the first anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to our colleague Liu Xiaobo, former president of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC). One year on, he and over thirty other writers remain in prison in China, and many more suffer ‘soft’ detention, surveillance, and censorship. PEN International demands their immediate and unconditional release, and calls upon its members to use this anniversary to publicise the deteriorating human rights climate in the People’s Republic of China and to express solidarity with their imprisoned colleagues.
Since China hosted the 2008 Beijing Olympics—games it had secured by pledging to the world to expand protections for the human rights of its citizens—the Chinese government has carried out successive crackdowns on its citizens’ right to freedom of expression, beginning with Liu Xiaobo’s detention on 8 December 2008. Liu was arrested for his role in publishing Charter 08, a document calling for political reform that he and 302 co-signers planned to release two days later, on International Human Rights Day. The document quickly garnered widespread support, and now has over 10,000 signatories from throughout China, many of whom have suffered reprisals.
When the Nobel announcement was made in mid-October 2010, restrictions were tightened further. Liu’s wife Liu Xia, a poet and photographer, was placed under strict house arrest at her home in Beijing, where she remains detained incommunicado and is denied any contact with the outside world. At the December 2010 Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo, Liu Xiaobo’s medal and diploma were presented to an empty chair.
In February 2011, another wave of repression swept the country, targeting dissent thought to have been inspired by the revolutions in the Middle East. Police stepped up their harassment of human rights defenders and activists across the country in response to anonymous calls for ‘Jasmine Revolution’ protests. Many were briefly detained, harassed, summoned or place under house arrest, and a number of prominent PEN members in China were amongst those targeted. The level of surveillance many still face remains stifling.
For the past three years since Liu’s arrest PEN International has been involved in a sustained and ongoing campaign for his release and to promote the right to free expression in China. PEN stands firm in its resolve to secure the release of Liu Xiaobo and all writers who remain behind bars or silenced in China today, in flagrant violation of its own laws and the international treaties which it has ratified. Show your support by taking part in at least one of the following actions over the coming days.
Join the online Empty Chair campaign led by the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial association by placing an empty chair for Liu Xiaobo in front of the Chinese embassy in your country, or in your street, office, library or workplace on 10 December 2011 at 13.18pm. Download a photo to place on your chair. Take a photo of your chair and upload it onto Facebook