(New York, NY) — Chinese officials stopped Chinese writer and activist Yang Maodong from boarding a flight last week from Shanghai to San Francisco to visit his ailing wife; now it appears he’s been detained at the behest of the Ministry of Public Security. PEN America today said his apparent detention is a cruel, inhumane act and that he should be released immediately and allowed to travel freely.

Yang had previously been banned from international travel, but had reportedly obtained all the necessary permissions from local authorities to fly to the United States. However, Yang was stopped from boarding his flight at Shanghai’s airport this past Thursday evening, reportedly under orders of the Ministry of Public Security. 

After officials blocked Yang from boarding his flight late last week, he started a hunger strike from Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport and released several public statements decrying his treatment. Soon after, his contacts stopped hearing from him and were unable to reach him. Chinese officials have not commented on the case, offering no information about Yang’s apparent detention.

“China’s Ministry of Public Security clearly fears Yang’s voice—to the point that they have taken this outrageous series of actions in order to ensure his silence,” said James Tager, research director at PEN America. “Permitting Yang to see his wife as she begins cancer treatments would be a simple humanitarian gesture, an act of human compassion. But by not only blocking Yang’s travel, but by detaining him and cutting him off from the outside world, it seems that Chinese officials have decided to prioritize politics over humanitarianism, and repression over compassion. It is offensive that Yang is being treated as some sort of criminal for refusing to accept his separation from his sick wife in silence. We call for the Chinese government to show compassion, to release Yang, and to allow him to see his wife. ”

In comments given before his detention, Yang said he had at one point been told by security officers that he could leave only if he negotiated the conditions for his travel with the police in his home province—with such conditions presumably including a ban on critiquing government or party leaders while abroad. Yang refused to do so.

Yang is also known by his pen name of Guo Feixiong, and his literary works include two novels, a short story collection, and a series of poems. Yang has previously served time in prison for charges relating to his status as a dissident writer and for his advocacy against government censorship.