The Chinese government has cited ”security reasons” for banning the dissident author and poet Liao Yiwu from travelling to Australia to attend the Sydney Writers’ Festival next week. Liao joins several leading Chinese writers and artists who have been victims of a recent crackdown on people speaking out against the regime in China, including the jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo and the detained artist Ai Weiwei.

Liao was to be a key guest at the festival. He is a poet, musician (Chinese flute player), novelist and documentarian from Sichuan province, whose book The Corpse Walker, which documents the lives of people on the fringe of Chinese society, was published in Australia by Text Publishing last week.

The Chinese government, which has called Liao’s writings subversive, has also ”advised” him not to publish his work overseas. Liao was jailed in 1990 for four years for writing his epic poem Massacre, which condemned the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Sydney Writers’ Festival organisers said they were deeply disappointed by the ban, which follows China’s earlier decision to stop Liao travelling to the US to take part in the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature.

The artistic director, Chip Rolley, said: ”Liao Yiwu … has been denied the fundamental right to express his views freely. We are astonished by the Chinese government’s additional demand that he not publish his works internationally. These actions highlight the need for Australians to better understand the growing power of China, including its reach into other countries.”

Author and sinologist Linda Jaivin, who was to discuss Liao’s work with him at the festival, said: ”The crazy thing is that by denying Liao Yiwu permission to travel, the Chinese government has given his work a massive publicity bonus overseas – just as few outside China knew about Liu Xiaobo before his arrest and subsequent Nobel prize, or the artist Ai Weiwei before his detention on April 3 this year. Despite numerous such examples, the Chinese government still doesn’t seem to understand that they are simply creating a new cause celebre every time they do this sort of thing.”

The Chinese government allowed Liao an exit permit to attend a literary event in Germany last year, his first after 14 attempts.

Meanwhile, The Guardian newspaper reported yesterday that while there was still no news of Ai Weiwei’s whereabouts, 37 days since his arrest by the Chinese police in Beijing, an unconfirmed report by a disaffected Xinhua journalist writing under a pseudonym suggested that Ai had been tortured, and had begun to confess to his supposed crimes.