(New York, NY) — Geng Xiaonan, the Chinese publisher who protested the persecution of Chinese law professor Xu Zhangrun last year, was sentenced Tuesday to three years’ imprisonment for “illegal business operations” related to her publishing. PEN America condemns this unjust and retaliatory conviction, which clearly illustrates Beijing’s growing intolerance for diversity of thought.

Geng and her husband—the co-owners of Ruiya Books in Beijing—were both detained in early September by Beijing police on the charges of publishing books without proper licensing. In the months before her arrest, Geng spoke out on the case of legal scholar Xu Zhangrun, a high-profile critic of Chinese leader Xi Jinping who was briefly detained in July on charges widely thought to be politically motivated. In a July 2020 interview, Geng addressed concerns for her own safety, saying that “the butcher’s knife of the authorities can fall at any time . . . they’re all saying that I’m also in great danger,” adding that she had hired a lawyer to represent her in case she was detained. 

“The case against Geng Xiaonan is completely unwarranted and showcases the draconian measures the government will take in order to silence not only critics of Party leadership, but anyone who even dares to speak up on their behalf,” said James Tager, director of research at PEN America. “Even if these charges were not so obviously pre-textual, Geng’s conviction should still offend every bookseller, reader, and writer around the globe. Publishing books is not a criminal endeavor. We call upon the Chinese government to immediately vacate this conviction and to release Geng.”

Geng and her husband were kept in pre-trial detention after their arrest. In the days leading up to the trial, authorities increased the severity of the charges against Geng, and blocked her from meeting with her lawyer. On February 9, Geng pled guilty to the charge of illegal business operations, and asked for leniency for herself, her husband, and her staff. She received a sentence of three years imprisonment, while her husband received a suspended sentence of two and a half years.

Xu Zhangrun, who was released from his six-day detainment in July, has penned an open letter to the Chinese Communist Party in Geng’s defense and has urged the public to show support. While in police custody in December, Geng was awarded the Lin Zhao Memorial Award by the Independent Chinese PEN Center, PEN America’s sister center within the PEN International network, for her courageous efforts in promoting justice.