Jonathan Franzen, Neil Gaiman, other authors push Chinese president to free jailed writers
They’re speaking out for free speech.
More than 40 authors, journalists and other “free expression advocates” have added their signatures to a letter urging China’s President Xi Jinping to rethink the harsh prison sentences for dozens of writers and bloggers currently jailed in China.
Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Franzen, Neil Gaiman, Ian McEwan, Katherine Paterson and Art Spiegelman are among the well-known authors who signed the missive.
“We are particularly concerned about the plight of our colleagues, many of whom face severe consequences for exercising their right to express their opinions and pursue their creativity,” reads the letter posted on the website of PEN America.
It goes on to say the authors have identified at least 47 writers and journalists currently in jail in the country, with average sentences of eight years.
In particular, it names blogger Ilham Tohti, who received a life sentenced “for voicing his views online about the treatment of Uighurs,” and 71-year-old investigative reporter Gao Yu, who was sentenced to seven years and isn’t getting needed medical care in prison.
Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and his artist wife, Liu Xia, are also cited. Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for calling for political reforms. His wife is under house arrest, the letter says, but has never been accused of a crime.
“These four cases and countless others highlight the harsh punishments faced by writers who voice views that the government finds objectionable,” the letter says.
The letter came just days before Xi, the Chinese president, made his first official visit to the U.S.
He arrived Tuesday morning in Seattle for business meetings, including tours of Microsoft and Boeing, reported the Seattle Times. He’s expected to head to Washington and New York later this week.
In May, several high-profile writers and publishers, including Franzen and Andrew Solomon, protested with PEN activists outside the New York Public Library in Manhattan to call for the release of jailed writers and an end to censorship in China.
They were protesting BookExpo America, an annual book publishing trade fair, for allowing China officials to showcase books without acknowledging the harsh treatment of writers under the country’s censorship laws.
The writers’ letter, dated Sept. 18, calls on the Chinese leader “to release the Chinese writers and journalists who are languishing in jail for the crime of expressing their opinions” and to work to defend the access of information for Chinese citizens.