Protest as China bars writer’s travel
Authors led by Salman Rushdie issued a protest Friday after outspoken Chinese writer Liao Yiwu said Beijing refused him permission to travel to New York for a literary festival.
Liao, who spent four years in jail after writing the poem “Massacre” about the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, was slapped with a ban on leaving China days before he was due to fly out, festival organizers said.
Rushdie, who had invited Liao to take part in the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature opening Monday, said that he and other writers “emphatically protest this travel ban.”
“One of China’s most censored writers, Liao’s groundbreaking writing has for years been off-limits to his fellow citizens; now his government seeks to extend the long arm of censorship overseas,” the Indian-born novelist said.
Rushdie called the ban “an extremely unfortunate statement on the part of Chinese authorities about its willingness to engage in free and open cultural exchange.”
Rushdie said that the festival would set up an empty chair to represent Liao at events he was due to attend, including a lecture with Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka.
Liao had also been due to travel to Australia for the Sydney Writers’ Festival next month.
China has launched its biggest crackdown on dissent in years amid a wave of pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East. Internet postings have encouraged Chinese to go on mass “strolls” through major cities.
Acclaimed artist Ai Weiwei, whose criticism of the government had been begrudgingly tolerated, disappeared earlier this month as he tried to fly from Beijing to Hong Kong.
Liao, who is also a musician and historian, published the story collection “The Corpse Walker” which relates the changing lives of 27 Chinese people from assorted backgrounds.
He was allowed to travel to Berlin last year after seeking assistance from the German government. In Berlin, Liao vowed to keep speaking his mind, saying: “It’s important that an author not censor himself.”
PEN is an international literary organization active on human rights. Liao, along with jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, have both been active in the Independent Chinese PEN Center.