By: Sarah Hoffman

PEN American Center will be in Geneva next week to press our concerns about free expression in Mexico, China, and Nigeria.

All three countries come under scrutiny this month as part of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process, which examines the human rights record of each UN member country every four years. Now in its sixth year, the UPR has become a vital mechanism for documenting and discouraging human rights violations around the world, and an important forum for PEN to focus international attention on countries where writers and journalists are especially at risk.

In China, as we documented in The PEN Report: Creativity and Constraint in Today’s China, repression by the government is on the rise, and continues to grow in the lead-up to China’s UPR session. In fact, in an op-ed in The New York Times today, Murong Xuecun, a contributor to the report, says:

A frequent topic of conversation among my friends here has been: Who will be arrested next?

Some of us met recently for dinner and started a list of potential candidates. We included outspoken scholars, writers and lawyers who have discussed democracy and freedom, criticized the government and spoken out for the disadvantaged.

Some of my dinner companions nominated themselves for the list. We agreed that the social critic Xiao Shu (the pen name of Chen Min) and Guo Yushan, a friend of the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng (now in the United States), should top the list. I’m right behind them.

Almost of all of us are active microbloggers. Some of us qualify as Big V, the widely used label for influential bloggers with millions of followers. (V stands for “verified account.”) It is our online activism that makes us prime targets of the government.

But not all those at risk are well-known microbloggers with “Big V” status. There was 16-year-old Yang Hui, who was detained after his Weibo post allegedly containing “online rumors” was reposted more than 500 times. And the net is cast even wider. Human rights activists have been harassed, detained, and banned from travel to Geneva to take part in the discussion about their own country at the UN.

And in Xinjiang and Tibet, where PEN has documented a severe assault on linguistic rights, the situation seems even more dire. The BBC reported recently that 110 people were arrested throughout the summer in Xinjiang for spreading “online rumors.” A Tibetan writer who was teaching creative writing was arrested just last week for “engaging in splittist activities,” and a peaceful protest turned violent when Chinese troops reportedly opened fire, wounding dozens—both incidents occurred in Driru, Tibet Autonomous Region.

All these latest developments and more will be fully scrutinized next week in Geneva. PEN has made the following recommendations in its submission to the UPR:

  • Restore and protect the right of all writers, journalists, and bloggers in China to exercise their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Chinese constitution and Article 19 of the ICCPR;
  • Immediately and unconditionally release all writers, journalists, and bloggers who are currently imprisoned or detained;
  • End all forms of surveillance and harassment of writers, journalists, and bloggers in China;
  • End all forms of censorship and allow all citizens the right to seek, impart, and receive information through digital media;
  • Respect and protect the right of writers and publishers in China to publish without fear of reprisals or government interference, and foster the creation of domestic and internationally-treasured literature and the growth of a world-class publishing industry;
  • Protect the fundamental right of ethnic minorities and all who are living in so-called “sensitive regions” to full freedom of expression by supporting linguistic diversity and the right to education in their native tongue.

These points have all been brought up by many writers living inside China such as Murong and Liu Xiaobo, as well as a slew of non-writer citizens just expressing an opinion on the web. So the question is: will China listen to its own people?

Check back in tomorrow for more information on PEN’s submission on Nigeria.