(New York, NY) — Li Qiaochu, the women’s rights activist and partner of detained activist, essayist, and PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write awardee Xu Zhiyong, has been detained and taken to Linyi detention center in China’s Shandong province. PEN America decried her detention today as an appalling escalation in the attempt to silence her.

On Friday, Li posted on Twitter that she had been asked to meet with a police officer in the Haidan district of Beijing the next day. Long an outspoken defender of Xu, Li was reportedly detained at that meeting and taken from Beijing—where she lives—to the Linyi detention center some five hours away. Li’s parents were reportedly told to sign a detention notice that says that Li is suspected of subversion of state power, which they refused to sign. 

“This is an appalling escalation in the attempt to silence and punish Li Qiaochu for continuing to speak out about Xu’s case and about her own treatment at the hands of state security services. It may also represent an attempt to increase the pressure on Xu himself by targeting his loved ones,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “Li Qiaochu is a woman of tremendous courage and conviction, and that courage has put her in the crosshairs of the Chinese government. She is being treated like a criminal for refusing to relent as her partner is detained and abused. We remain in solidarity with Li Qiaochu; we call for her immediate release, and we insist the police stop pursuing these spurious charges.”

Hours before her detention, Li tweeted her reaction to learning that Xu had been tortured in prison, and shared information about her complaint against Linyi detention center—where Xu was being held and where she is now detained—for serving sub-standard food. In December, police forced Li into house arrest and threatened to detain her if she kept speaking out about Xu’s case.

Last year, Li spent four months in “residential surveillance at a designated location,” a form of secret detention, before being conditionally released on bail. Last month, Li released an account of her secret detention. She described 24/7 surveillance, constant insults and degradation, and sleeping in a fixed posture so the guards wouldn’t wake her up. She wrote in that essay that, when she learned that people outside were “concerned about me, looking for me, and I wasn’t forgotten,” that this “gave me the will to leave that place alive and have the opportunity to speak for myself.”

Late last month, Chinese officials escalated the charges against Li’s partner Xu, from “inciting subversion of state power” to “subversion of state power.” Xu, who was first detained in February 2020, has been cut off from the outside world, and was only recently allowed to meet with his lawyers for the first time. Li accepted the 2020 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award on his behalf at a ceremony in December.