NEW YORK—PEN America is dismayed to learn of the summary rejection of imprisoned Chinese activist Zhang Haitao’s long-delayed appeal. Today, the High People’s Court of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region announced that Zhang’s original 19-year prison sentence still stands, in the final appeal possible in the case.
 
In January 2016, after being arrested for the stated crime of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” Chinese activist Zhang Haitao was sentenced to 19 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” and “providing intelligence for overseas agencies.” The charges are thought to be related to his online criticism of the Chinese government, and the harsh sentence is likely due to his location in Xinjiang, a province stricken by discord between the Uyghur minority and the Han Chinese majority, although Zhang himself is of Han ethnicity. Zhang’s defense team was reportedly not permitted to make any arguments at the appeal. He has been forced to wear heavy leg irons in prison since the original verdict was handed down in January 2016, and has not been allowed to walk outside in fresh air since March, according to his lawyers.
 
“The court’s verdict, in addition to being a cruel setback for Zhang and his family, represents another nail in the coffin of free expression in China,” said Karin Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “We urge authorities to reconsider this harsh sentence, and to ameliorate the conditions in which Zhang is currently being held.”
 
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. Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur economist, professor, and writer who was honored with the 2014 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, is currently serving a life sentence for his online writings.
 
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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.

 

CONTACT:

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