(New York, NY) – The six-month jail sentence for a Chinese college student who tweeted “denigrating” photos while living in the U.S. is an obvious violation of free expression guarantees, and a clear message that the Chinese government intends for its censorship to be inescapable, PEN America said today. Luo Daiqing, a student at the University of Minnesota, was charged with “provocation” and jailed last summer for several tweets he published in fall 2018 that purportedly criticized China’s President Xi Jinping.

“This decision is flatly inconsistent with international—and domestic Chinese—guarantees of freedom of expression,” said James Tager, deputy director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN  America. “Luo’s case is an obvious example of how China’s criminal code criminalizes vast categories of speech, so that any expression of dissent or even criticism transforms everyday people into criminals in the eyes of the Chinese state.”

Under President Xi Jinping, China has seen a massive increase in censorship and state control over the media, literature, the arts, and everyday expression. Chinese efforts to enlarge its censorship outside its national borders include its kidnapping of the Causeway Bay Booksellers in 2015, its publicized attempts to intimidate the foreign family members of persecuted Uyghurs, and its forced censorship of popular social media platform WeChat—even for WeChat users outside of the country. Chinese state-controlled media have also helped lead public backlash against foreign brands that do not tow the Chinese official line on policy matters, from Mercedes-Benz to US-based airlines, to luxury brands like Versace and Coach.

“It is obvious that China is attempting to send a signal with Luo Daiqing’s conviction—they are telling overseas Chinese citizens that there is no place where they are free from state censorship and surveillance,” said PEN America’s Tager. “That what you say in America or elsewhere will have consequences for you within China. That the reach of their censorship is inescapable. Luo’s case has implications for every Chinese student studying abroad, and for every academic institution that seeks to safeguard its students’ freedom of speech.”

In March 2018, PEN America launched the report Forbidden Feeds: Government Controls on Social Media in China, examining China’s system of social media censorship as well as its efforts to force Western social media companies to comply with its censorship regime as a pre-requisite to market entry. PEN America also worked to push Google to drop “Project Dragonfly,” its project to create a censored search engine for Chinese users.

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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: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee@pen.org, +1 202 309 8892