(NEW YORK)–PEN America is gravely concerned by the recent court decision to sentence to six years the poet and member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC), Zhang Guiqi (張桂祺) who reportedly called on Xi Jinping to step down. PEN America condemns the conviction and calls on the PRC government to ensure his immediate and unconditional release.

This past July 26, after nearly two years in detention, a court in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong sentenced Zhang Guiqi, 49, who is widely known by his pen name Lu Yang, to six years in prison. Zhang Guiqi was accused of “inciting subversion of state power” under Article 105 of China’s Criminal Law, an accusation routinely utilized by the PRC regime to target dissident writers who peacefully criticize the PCR government’s repression. The PRC authorities reportedly informed Zhang’s family about the court decision by phone, refusing to allow the family to see the judgment, claiming that Zhang’s crime involved national security and state secrets. The court additionally sentenced Zhang to three years of deprivation of his political rights, including his right to freedom of expression and his right to assemble, to run after his imprisonment

“Zhang’s imprisonment is, unfortunately, another example of how the CCP has responded to peaceful criticism and dissent through a weaponized judicial system, a political regime of censorship and silencing, and draconian punishments,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, director of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center. “We call upon the Chinese government to reverse this unjust result and vacate Zhang’s sentence. Freedom of expression is not a crime, no matter how much the CCP treats it as one.”

Several reports indicated that Zhang’s arrest was due to a video he shared on social media with a very small group of people, in which he demanded Xi Jinping to step down from power and called for an end to CCP one-party rule. After Zhang’s arrest,  authorities shut down a private teaching and art business that was owned and run by Zhang and his wife. Later, after his conviction, his wife was reportedly threatened by her employer that her contract would be terminated if she spoke to foreign media about Zhang’s case and the court decision.

Zhang Guiqi is a poet and teacher known for his stance in support of freedom of speech and political reform in China. Due to his activism he has been subjected to different forms of repression. In 2007, the PCR government shutdown the Chinese Contemporary Poetry Platform, an online poet platform that Zhang founded and edited. In January 2017, Zhang was among a group of intellectuals and rights activists protested in solidarity with Professor Deng Xiangchao, a lecturer fired after criticizing former CCP leader Mao Zedong. The protest that Zhang participated in was reportedly attacked by a group of those who supported the firing. 

Zhang’s case has parallels with the case of writer and legal scholar, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), who, similar to Zhang, is being accused of “inciting subversion of state power.” Xu underwent a trial in June 2022, two years  after being first detained in June 2020, and Chinese authorities have not offered any public information about the result. Xu Zhiyong is the 2020 recipient of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, which PEN America bestows annually to an imprisoned writer targeted for their free expression.

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 pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, STrimel@PEN.org, 201-247-5057