NEW YORK—News that Chinese dissident writer and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo is suffering from late-stage liver cancer and has been released from prison on medical grounds is a painful reminder that President Xi Jinping and his regime will go to any lengths to crush opposition, PEN America said in a statement today. Liu was moved from prison to a hospital about a month ago. 

Liu Xiaobo, a renowned literary critic, writer, and political activist who was a leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, was serving a prison sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” for penning seven sentences calling for democratic reforms in China, known as Charter 08. He was detained at his home in Beijing on December 8, 2008, and held without charge until June 23, 2009. After a trial that lasted less than three hours and in which the defense was not permitted to present evidence, Liu Xiaobo was found guilty. On Christmas Day 2009, Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

His wife, the poet Liu Xia, has been under house arrest since the announcement that Liu Xiaobo would win the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2010. She is also known to be in poor health. 

“Liu Xiaobo is an icon for PEN America and for writers and free expression advocates worldwide, for whom his resilience, his steadfastness, and his leadership have for decades been a source of inspiration. That Chinese authorities have cruelly delayed Liu’s release on medical parole until his cancer was highly advanced, so that his options for treatment are limited and his prognosis grim, is a painful reminder that Xi Jinping and his oppressive regime will repress dissident voices even to the last,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America. “Having denied Liu so many basic human dignities, China must ensure he is granted unfettered visits from family and friends, unrestricted communication, and access to the highest quality medical care, including travel overseas for treatment if he chooses.”

In 2009, PEN America honored Liu Xiaobo, who founded the Independent Chinese PEN Center, with the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Free to Write Award while he was in pretrial detention. On New Year’s Eve that same year, PEN America and acclaimed writers including Kwame Anthony Appiah, Don DeLillo, A.M. Homes, and the late Edward Albee and EL Doctorow gathered on the steps of the New York Public Library to mount a public protest against his conviction. PEN America reprised that action in May 2015, bringing Jonathan Franzen, Paul Auster, Francine Prose, and Murong Xuecun to the steps to shine a light on Liu’s case and those of more than 40 other writers imprisoned in China.


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, Communications Director: [email protected], +1.646.779.4830