NEW YORK – PEN America is disturbed that after more than a month in detention, blogger Liu Yanli, a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, has been formally charged with defamation for a few short social media messages posted to a closed group of online friends.

Liu, arrested on September 26 in Jingmen City, Hubei Province, is currently being held at Jingmen City Detention Center. The charges against Liu stem from posts to WeChat, a Chinese version of Twitter. The posts, mostly copied from other online sites, allegedly defame current and former Chinese leaders, such as Chairman Mao Zedong, Premier Zhou Enlai, and President Xi Jinping. Liu’s writing is often critical of the Chinese government and of local-level authorities and police. One recent blog post expresses her frustration with the police’s handling of her application for a travel permit to attend a meeting in Hong Kong. Since 2009, Chinese authorities have occasionally harassed Liu as a result of her work, summoning her for police questioning and confiscating her computer.

“The charges against Ms Liu are absurd,” said Karin Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “Under Chinese law, criminal defamation charges can be applied in relation to defamation of a living person, while several of the former leaders allegedly defamed have been dead for decades. We urge Chinese authorities to drop the charges against Liu, and to cease their suppression of critical voices who speak out against government corruption or ineptitude.”

China has one of the most restrictive environments worldwide for free expression, with several dozen writers, journalists, and bloggers in prison as a result of their speech or writings, according to PEN records. Since President Xi Jinping assumed leadership of Chinese Communist Party in 2012, the government has tightened its control on investigative journalism and online commentary. In April 2015, Gao Yu, a prominent 71-year-old reporter, was sentenced to seven years in prison for leaking state secrets; due to deteriorating health, her sentence was reduced to five years and she is being allowed to serve her term at home. In August 2015, Wang Xiaolu, a journalist for Caijing, a financial magazine, was detained for his coverage of the stock market.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: sedkins@pen.org, +1.646.779.4830
Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs: kdkarlekar@pen.org, +1.646.779.4822