Yang Tongyan, a Chinese writer serving a 12-year prison term for posting anti-government articles on the Internet, will receive this year’s PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.

The $10,000 award, announced today in a press release, is made annually to an imprisoned or persecuted writer in jeopardy because of health or other reasons. It is underwritten by Goldsmith, a historian, author and philanthropist, and presented by the American chapter of PEN, an international organization that monitors persecution of writers.

“I was particularly pleased that the advisory committee selected someone from China,” Goldsmith said in a telephone interview. “With the Olympics and the economic conference following them, this is a unique chance to focus on human rights there, and on the secrecy in which they’ve conducted these repressions.”

The advisory committee includes representatives from other human rights organizations, as well as Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corp.

Yang, an essayist, poet and novelist who suffers from diabetes and arthritis, was arrested in December 2005 for “subverting state authority.” The following May, the Zhenjiang Intermediate People’s Court sentenced him to 12 years in prison.

Banned Sites

Also known by his pen name Yang Tianshui, Yang previously spent a decade in Chinese prisons for his opposition to the treatment of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Yang, who turns 47 tomorrow, is divorced and the father of a 16-year-old daughter. He lives in Nanjing City and is a longtime member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Yang is one of 38 writers, including five PEN members, currently imprisoned in China, according to Larry Siems, director of the PEN American Center’s Freedom to Write program.

In addition to “subversive” writing for Boxun News and the Epoch Times—Web sites that are banned in China—Yang was charged with helping to organize a branch of the outlawed China Democracy Party and participating in China’s Velvet Action Movement.

Olympic Factor

Siems said in an interview that PEN’s activism in China “was a significant factor” in Yang winning the award. When the Chinese government unveiled its “We Are Ready” campaign for the 2008 Olympics, Siems said, PEN responded with its own “We Are Ready For Freedom of Expression” campaign.

“We are asking for China to free all its imprisoned journalists and writers,” Siems said. “This is a colleague, and the fact that he has spent 11 of the past 17 years in jail has surely taken its toll.”

In “Spiritual Tours Over Land of China,” Yang wrote:

The electrical fence and high wall

Quietly guard around it against all—

The wilderness, far mountain and cloudy sky,

In a prisoner’s heart the constant universes lie.