NEW YORK—The disappearance and reported detention of award-winning Chinese photojournalist Lu Guang is a troubling attack on artistic and journalistic freedom, PEN America said today.

Lu, an award-winning Chinese documentary photographer whose work focuses on contemporary environmental and social issues, has not been heard from since November 3. Lu was traveling in Xinjiang, the northwestern region of China where over 1 million Muslims are reportedly being held in “re-education” internment camps. Lu was scheduled to meet a friend in Sichuan province on November 5 but never showed up.  Some sources have since reported that Lu’s wife, Xu Xiaoli, has been informed of Lu’s detention; however, his whereabouts remain unknown, as are the details around his arrest and detention.

The Chinese government has been roundly criticized for its rights-abusive practices in Xinjiang, including the practice of forcibly placing Muslims in “re-education” camps where they are compelled to participate in “patriotic education.” International estimates vary, but the number of “re-education” internees is believed to number in the hundreds of thousands at least. In October 2018, the Uyghur Human Rights Project reported that over 200 Uyghur intellectuals had been forcibly taken to the camps, a number that is believed to represent only a fraction of the total. In August of 2018, PEN America noted that Chinese Muslim poet An Ran had apparently been targeted for retaliatory action by authorities, for his statements criticizing governmental policies in Xinjiang.

“Lu’s disappearance is deeply concerning, and we must assume that it is related to his work as a photojournalist, exposing truths about China that the government no doubt would prefer remained hidden,” said Julie Trebault, the Director of the Artists at Risk Connection at PEN America. “Unfortunately, Lu’s case is not unique. The Chinese government has a history of disappearing artists who use their practices as a platform to challenge and critique the regime’s policies. PEN America calls on the Chinese government to disclose Lu Guang’s whereabouts and detention status and to release him immediately.”

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC here.


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.

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