New York City, April 16, 2009—PEN American Center today named Liu Xiaobo, one of China’s preeminent dissident writers and activists and a leading figure in the PEN movement internationally, as the recipient of its 2009 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. Liu, who was detained on December 8, 2008 for co-authoring a petition for political and human rights reforms, is being held without charge or trial under “residential surveillance” at an unknown location in Beijing.

The award, which honors international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression, will be presented at PEN’s Annual Gala on April 28, 2009 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Distinguished writer, historian, and PEN member Barbara Goldsmith underwrites the award.

“The liberties that allow all of us to make meaningful lives have always depended, alas, on those who are willing, like Liu Xiaobo, to put their own freedom at risk,” said K. Anthony Appiah, President of PEN American Center. “His consistent self-sacrifice for the cause of democracy in China should inspire all freedom’s friends around the world. I am filled with admiration—indeed, with awe—each time I read about the extraordinary things he has done.”

Liu Xiaobo is an intellectual and literary critic who has taught at Beijing Normal University and a number of universities outside of China, including University of Oslo, the University of Hawaii, and Columbia University in New York City. In the spring of 1989, Liu left his post at Columbia and returned to Beijing to play a crucial role in the spreading pro-democracy movement, staging a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square in support of the students and leading calls for a truly broad-based, sustainable democratic movement. He was instrumental in preventing even further bloodshed in the Square by supporting and advancing a call for non-violence on the part of the students. He spent two years in prison for his role, and another three years of “reeducation through labor” in 1996 for publicly questioning the role of the single-party system and calling for dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama of Tibet. In 2004, his phone lines and Internet connection were cut after the release of his essay criticizing the use of “subversion” charges used to silence journalists and activists, and he has been the target of regular police surveillance and harassment in the years since.

On December 8, 2008, Liu Xiaobo was arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.” The arrest came on the eve of the release of Charter 08, an extraordinary declaration that Liu had co-authored calling for political reform, greater human rights, and an end to one-party rule in China. Police arrived at his home just after 9:00 p.m., and at 11:00 p.m., they took him into custody and searched his home, confiscating computers and other materials. Since his arrest, nearly all of the original signatories of Charter 08 have been interrogated in a push to gather evidence on Liu. Despite this crackdown, the document has now been signed by more than 8,500 people from all walks of life throughout China.

In addition to his writings and political activism, Liu Xiaobo has been a leading figure in the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC), a center of the international literary and human rights organization that is doing courageous, on-the-ground advocacy work in China despite constant pressure from Chinese authorities. Liu served as President of ICPC from 2003 to 2007 and currently holds a seat on its Board. Since ICPC was formed in 2001, it has had meetings interrupted and canceled by authorities, its officers and members are regularly surveilled, and several have been detained and questioned about the center’s activities. As ICPC has emerged as an important voice for freedom of expression in China, it has come under increased pressure in the last two years. Seven of its members are now in prison in connection with their writings.

In announcing the award today in New York, Freedom to Write Program Director Larry Siems praised Liu’s “unsparing critical attacks on tyranny, his courageous commitment to intellectual freedom, and his willingness to risk his own freedom to defend and expand the freedom to write in China.” Siems also urged the Obama administration to clarify its position on human rights in China by pressing aggressively for Liu Xiaobo’s release. “A troubling feature of China’s ascendance internationally has been its implicit agreement with other rights-abusing regimes that it will turn a blind eye to human rights violations in exchange for preferred commercial relations. Throughout the world, men and women who are challenging tyranny are looking for assurances that their fate, and the fate of their countries, depends on something more than the bottom line. To fail to challenge the Chinese government on Liu Xiaobo’s imprisonment is to concede this argument internationally, at enormous peril to peaceful advocates of progress and change around the world.”

This is the 23rd year that the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award has honored an international literary figure who has been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression. Candidates are nominated by International PEN and any of its 145 constituent PEN centers around the world, and screened by PEN American Center and an Advisory Board comprising some of the most distinguished experts in the field. The Advisory Board for the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award includes Carroll Bogert, Associate Director of Human Rights Watch; Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation; Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, International Vice-President of International PEN; Aryeh Neier, President of the Open Society Institute; and Joel Simon, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Freedom to Write Award is an extension of PEN’s year-round advocacy on behalf of the more than 1,009 writers and journalists who are currently threatened or in prison. Forty-four women and men have received the award since 1987; 31 of the 34 honorees who were in prison at the time they were honored were subsequently released.

PEN American Center is among the 145 worldwide centers of International PEN, an organization that works to promote friendship and intellectual cooperation among writers everywhere, to fight for freedom of expression, and represent the conscience of world literature. It has been working together with the Independent Chinese PEN Center to protest China’s imprisonment, harassment, and surveillance of writers and journalists and to seek an end to Internet censorship and other restrictions on the freedom to write in that country. For more information, please visit

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105