On New Year’s Eve, philosophy professor and novelist Kwame Anthony Appiah joined a group of prominent authors on the steps of the New York Public Library to protest the arrest of Chinese writer and activist Liu Xiaobo. On June 23, Liu was arrested for “inciting subversion of state power” and on Dec. 25 he was  sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment and two years’ deprivation of political rights.

Appiah, who opened the New Year’s Eve event, is the president of PEN American Center, a New York-based literary association devoted to defending freedom of expression. Liu has served since 2003 as the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center.

Controversy arose after Liu co-wrote “Charter 08,” a document calling for greater freedom and democracy in China.

The Chinese court sees Liu’s work as a threat to its government, Appiah explained in an interview with The Daily Princetonian.

“It’s hard to see why the court described them as major crimes,” Appiah said of Liu’s transgressions, adding that Liu’s main claim is that as long as the Communist Party is the only political party in China, there will be no real political freedom.

“The laws under which he was persecuted mean that there is no real freedom of press or expression in China,” Appiah added.

The laws also violate human rights and the Chinese constitution, Appiah said.

Charter 08 calls for the amendment of the Chinese constitution and separation of powers, as well as freedom of expression and a number of other rights.

“He’s not asking to kill anyone or blow up anything,” Appiah said. “He has a legal right to do this.”

Appiah and other members of PEN have been writing letters to President Obama, the Chinese government and the American ambassador in Beijing. Though more than a dozen international diplomats sought to cover the legal proceedings, they were denied access to the courtroom and stood outside for the duration of the trial.

Appiah said the Chinese people are increasingly interested in participating in national government, but that if the government continues to violate human rights, they won’t be able to.

“It’s not true that [the Chinese] can treat a matter lightly regarding their human rights,” he added.

International PEN has been following Liu since he was arrested during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. “It’s an international campaign,” Appiah said, adding that there are diplomats from all nations involved.

“It’s worth continuing our protest,” Appiah said. “We have to keep the pressure on.”