TURTLE BAY. Ninety-nine days before the Olympics opening ceremonies in Beijing, several literary giants — Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Edward Albee, among them — announced they would be delivering a petition signed by thousands to the Chinese Mission to the UN demanding the release of 39 writers and journalists imprisoned in China.

The campaign was launched last December by the PEN American Center, which believes these 39 were jailed for exercising their right to speak and write freely — an act guaranteed under Chinese law.

 “Without freedom of the imagination and freedom of speech, there can be no other freedom,” Rushdie said.

The campaign is also calling for the Chinese to stick to its pledge to not restrict media reporting “up to and including” the games and to end Web censorship. But PEN took no position on a boycott.

“It’s not realistic to boycott,” said Rushdie. “I have sympathy for the athletes who have worked hard.” But he believed negative media attention would help. “Totalitarian regimes are oddly susceptible to be shamed in public,” Rushdie said.

“They have this odd desire to be popular.”