New York City, November 10, 2010—In testimony before Congress on Tuesday, PEN American Center President Kwame Anthony Appiah criticized the Chinese government’s attempts  to censor information about the awarding of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo and urged the international community to join in demanding his release, insisting “these demands are right, they are demands of justice.”
The hearing, called by Senator Byron Dorgan and Congressman Sander Levin, Chair and Co-Chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, focused on the life and work of Liu Xiaobo, past president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center and now a globally-recognized figure of peace and human rights, and the future of political reform in China now that an imprisoned political activist has received the Nobel Peace Prize. Appiah nominated Liu for the prize, which was announced on October 8. Since then, PEN has reported a continued crackdown against Liu Xiaobo’s supporters, colleagues, friends, and family, dozens of whom have been harassed, detained, or put under house arrest.  Appiah entered a leaflet distributed in China by Internet writer Guo Xianliang, who was criminally detained on October 28 for spreading news about Liu’s Nobel, into the Congressional record.

“We have no hostility towards China or the Chinese,” Appiah said in his prepared testimony. “Indeed, it is our respect and concern for China and her people that leads us to urge their government to allow them—all of them—the freedom to write and to read and to organize that will allow them to be responsible citizens of a democratic society, and will then allow China to be a responsible and respected colleague in the community of democratic nations.”

Liu Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” for his writings. He is being held in Jinzhou Prison in Liaoning Province, and his family has reportedly been refused their legally-protected right to visit him this month. His wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest since October 8, and her friends and family have not heard from her since October 20. Her Twitter account has been dark since October 18.

Appiah, whose most recent book The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen highlights the important role international pressure played in helping to end the practice of footbinding in China in the 19th century, insisted that citizens around the world share the desire that their countries be respected. Responding to a question from Congressman Levin about what the U.S. government should do to help win Liu’s release and promote greater freedom of expression in China, Appiah called such pressure “a very powerful weapon.”

“I don’t think we should back off,” he said. “In the end China will only move forward if the Chinese people themselves are allowed to, or choose to, or mobilize themselves to move forward. But we can help, as this country was helped in our revolution by people from outside the colonies. This happens all the time in world history.”

“It’s very important that we stick to our principles; principles that are universal principles, and principles that are largely present in the Chinese constitution itself,” he concluded.

For more information on Liu Xiaobo and PEN’s work on his behalf, please visit

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of International PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center, which works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled, has been working to end China’s imprisonment, harassment, and surveillance of writers and journalists and curtail Internet censorship and other restrictions on the freedom to write in that country. For more information, please visit

Sarah Hoffman, (212) 334-1660 ext. 111