New York, June 19, 2008—PEN American Center today called on the Bush Administration and Congress to step up pressure on the People’s Republic of China to release 44 imprisoned writers and journalists and end press censorship in the 50 days remaining before the Olympic Games open in Beijing. In letters to the President, Secretary of State, and members of both houses of Congress, PEN chronicles what it calls “a grinding and relentless campaign to jail or silence prominent dissident voices” over the past several months, and asks that United States representatives and officials seek ways to hold China to its pledges to improve human rights and expand press freedom in this Olympic year.

The letters, part of PEN’s We Are Ready for Freedom of Expression campaign, document China’s lack of progress in three areas over the last six months: detentions, harassment, and censorship of writers and journalists; restrictions on media reporting and movement of journalists; and Internet censorship and troublesome laws. Noting that China gave explicit assurances on its commitment to improve human rights in order to secure the Olympic Games, PEN reports that that in fact the last six months have seen accelerating abuses. Nine writers and journalists have been detained and many more harassed; Tibetan areas and now earthquake-affected areas in Sichuan Province have been cordoned off from foreign media; and Internet censorship has increased, with many sites sabotaged or blocked and all nine of the recent arrests involving writers and journalists who posted or distributed work over the Internet.

In its letter to President Bush, PEN writes, “In bidding for the Olympic Games and in offering the requisite assurances of its intentions to protect and expand basic human rights, China has invited just this kind of scrutiny. In turn the international community, in agreeing to participate in the Beijing Games, should be seeking ways to hold the Chinese government accountable for these assurances.”

“We therefore entreat you in the remaining days before the Olympics to press for the release of 44 writers and journalists currently being held in Chinese prisons and to insist on complete, nationwide, unrestricted freedom of the press. And if the Olympics arrive and a significant number of our colleagues are still in prison, we strongly urge you to review your planned participation in official ceremonies and events.”

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of International PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession.

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105, lsiems@pen.org