A Chinese dissident writer and Epoch Times contributor has been awarded the prestigious 2008 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.

However Yang Tongyan will not be able to attend the award presentation night in New York later this month, as he is currently serving a 12 year jail term in China for “subversion of state power”.

Presented by International PEN, a global literary organisation and advocate of free expression, the award honours international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising the right to freedom of expression.

“We are honouring an incredibly brave colleague of ours, once again in jail, for exercising the right to freedom of expression,” Larry Siems, Freedom-To-Write program director, told The Epoch Times.

“We hope that this award and attention will help him gain recognition and encourage his release.

“We hope that it will also bring attention to the 37 other writers in jail so they will also be released before the Olympic Games this summer.”

Mr Yang is known for his critical writings published on websites such as Epochtimes.com and Boxun.com, which include pieces written while in prison.

He ‘disappeared’ on December 23, 2005, having been detained without warrant in Nanjing on December 23, 2005, and held incommunicado at Dantu District Detention Centre in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu Province. Having heard nothing of his arrest or detainment, his family received a formal notification one month later from the Public Security Bureau of Zhenjiang City.

Mr Yang was convicted of subversion of state power for posting anti-government articles on the Internet, organizing a branch of the outlawed China Democracy Party, participating in China’s Velvet Action Movement and being elected as a member of its “Interim Government of Democratic China,” and accepting illegal funds from overseas to transfer to jailed political dissidents and their families.

He was sentenced on May 16, 2006 to 12 years’ imprisonment, after a three-hour trial that was closed to the public.

In previous pieces published on The Epoch Times website, Mr Yang publicly put forward concrete steps towards democratic reform, as well as praised individual actions against the communist regime’s information blockade.

In one article entitled “Yearn Hero Liu Chengjun”, published on Epochtimes.com on July 24, Mr Yang praises the actions of Falun Gong practitioner Liu Chengjun, who in March 2002 tapped into cable TV networks in Changchun city and Songyan city with several others, to broadcast highly-censored information about the state-led persecution of Falun Gong.

Mr Liu was arrested on March 24 after a large-scale search. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison by the Changchun People’s Intermediate Court on September 20, and passed away in the Jilin University Sino-Japanese Hospital on December 26, 2003, with evidence that he had undergone grueling, long-term torture in custody.

“In China, how many people have the capability and courage to use modern technology to strike the autocracy, except Liu Chenjun and his fellow Falun Gong practitioners?” lamented Yang Tongyan.

“Their action terrified the rulers, encouraged people who pursue freedom and democracy, and made those who have not realized the moral power of Falun Gong to be ashamed.

“No word can express our yearning and reverence to brother Liu Chengjun.”

Yang Tongyan is one of nearly 200 members of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, which was established in 2001 by dissident writers inside China and in the diaspora.

PEN has invited Yang’s lawyer, Mr Li Jianqiang, to travel from Beijing to accept the award on Mr Yang’s behalf at PEN’s Annual Gala on April 28 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Li, an ICPC member himself, has represented at least eight of the 38 writers and journalists PEN believes are imprisoned in violation of their right to freedom of expression in China. He had his license to practice law revoked last year for his efforts.