PEN America condemns the unjust conviction and sentencing of Chinese labor and women’s rights activist Li Qiaochu. Li, who is the partner of imprisoned activist, essayist, and PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write awardee Xu Zhiyong, was convicted of “inciting subversion” on February 5, 2024. 

“Chinese authorities have treated Li Qiaochu like a dangerous criminal for refusing to be silent about the years-long campaign of legalized harassment and retaliation that the Chinese state has waged against her and her partner. To Beijing, Li Qiaochu’s courage in speaking up for herself is apparently a criminal act that threatens the government. Li Qiaochu’s conviction demonstrates how the Chinese Communist Party continues to treat words as crimes and how the CCP would rather damage the lives of its own citizens than accept peaceful criticism. We repeat our longstanding call that Li Qiaochu be immediately released,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, Director of PEN America’s Freedom to Write Center. 

Li Qiaochu is a researcher whose work focuses on women and labor rights. She is also the colleague and partner of Xu Zhiyong, a civil rights lawyer who is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence for “subversion” for charges related to his writing and his peaceful advocacy.  In December 2020, Xu Zhiyong received PEN America’s PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, which Li Qiaochu accepted on his behalf

Since Xu Zhiyong was targeted for arrest in late 2019, Chinese authorities have consistently and repeatedly targeted Li Qiaochu in an apparent attempt to browbeat her into silence regarding Xu’s case and in an additional apparent effort to increase pressure on Xu. 

  • Li was summoned by police in December 2019 and asked to account for his whereabouts. At that time, she was held in detention for 24 hours.
  • After Li criticized the police for detaining her, she was again taken into custody in February 2020 and held incommunicado before being released on bail in June 2020. In January 2021, Li would publish this harrowing account of her time in secret detention.
  • Li was detained again in February 2021 after she tweeted about the inhumane conditions of Xu’s detention. Li was formally arrested in March 2021 under the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” She has been continually held in detention since February 2021.

On February 5, 2024, the Linyi Intermediate People’s Court convicted Li of “inciting subversion,” charges which relate to Li’s alleged assistance in running Xu Zhiyong’s blog. The court has sentenced Li to three years and eight months imprisonment, a sentence which includes the three years Li has already served in custody. Li is expected to be released in August 2024. The court additionally sentenced Li to the deprivation of her political rights for an additional two years, meaning that if Li engages in peaceful criticism of the government during that time, she may be reimprisoned. 

Li’s trial was heard behind closed doors, as it allegedly involved “state secrets.” Rights groups, including PEN America, have repeatedly warned that Li has serious physical and mental health conditions, and there are significant concerns about her treatment in custody.

About PEN America

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. Learn more at

Contact: Dietlind Lerner,[email protected] tel. +1 310 699 8775