PEN American Center President Presses Case of Liu Xiaobo for 2010 Nobel
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Tokyo, Japan, September 30, 2010—PEN American Center President Kwame Anthony Appiah last night renewed his call to the Nobel Committee to recognize Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo with this year’s Peace Prize, telling an international audience of writers that “this is the right moment for the world to show those in China who do not understand that history is on freedom’s side that the world’s friends of peace and democracy are watching.”
Appiah formally nominated Liu for the prize in January. Speaking last evening at the 76th International PEN Congress in Tokyo, Japan, he placed Liu alongside Andrei Sakharov, Shirin Ebadi, and Dr. Martin Luther King, three previous laureates who “stood up to systematic repression in their own countries and practiced principled, non-violent resistance to bad laws and policies.” He praised the Nobel Committee’s distinguished record of recognizing and honoring just such voices at just such critical moments.
Liu was sentenced last December to 11 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” for co-authoring Charter 08, a declaration calling for political reform, greater human rights, and an end to one-party rule in China. Appiah’s address to representatives from PEN’s 145 member centers echoed the growing chorus of voices inside and outside China speaking out in recent weeks in support of Liu’s Nobel nomination.
Last week, playwright and former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel, who also called for Liu’s nomination earlier this year, published an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune urging the Nobel Committee “to honor Liu Xiaobo’s more than two decades of unflinching and peaceful advocacy for reform, and to make him the first Chinese recipient of that prestigious award.”
Havel’s piece sparked a petition movement inside China; more than 300 Chinese citizens including scholars, former government officials, and factory workers have added their names to a letter reiterating key elements of Charter 08 and supporting the selection of Liu for this year’s Peace Prize. Earlier this week, Nobel Institute Director Geir Lundestand reported that Chinese officials, reacting to international support for Liu’s nomination, warned him this summer that recognizing China’s most prominent political prisoner could harm relations between their country and Norway.
Appiah pressed Liu’s case in Tokyo at an event celebrating 50 years of PEN advocacy on behalf of writers imprisoned for their work. In his speech, Appiah paid tribute to Havel, who PEN helped free in 1984 and whose Charter 77 manifesto served as a model for the Charter 08 movement in China, and declared that writers around the world now stand with Liu and will not rest until he is free.
At least 45 writers, journalists, and bloggers are currently in prison in China for their writings. Four of them, including Liu Xiaobo, are members of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, which is composed of 300 dissident writers living inside and outside of China; Liu is a past president and board member of the center. PEN’s Tokyo Congress concluded today with the delivery of a resolution to the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo calling on the Chinese government to release all the writers now being held in violation of their right to freedom expression in that country. The PEN resolution, citing in particular growing Internet censorship and “the increasing misuse of China’s Criminal Law to arbitrarily charge dissident writers,” also demands an end to Internet controls and the use of “subversion” and “leaking state secrets” charges to silence writers.
Appiah emphasized that over the last five decades, PEN has seen significant progress for writers in China. “The numbers of those in prison for exercising the right to free expression guaranteed to them by international human rights law was once in the thousands, if not tens of thousands; today we can identify only a few score such prisoners in the name of free expression,” Appiah told the audience, adding that there are many voices within the Chinese government who now favor greater respect for free expression.
“China wants—and needs—to be heard in the community of nations,” he continued. “I—and all of us in the PEN International family—believe in a cosmopolitan conversation in which we hear from every nation. But the world must let China’s rulers know that we can only listen respectfully if they offer to their own citizens the fundamental freedoms we all claim from our governments.”
“No signal of this would be more powerful than the award of the Nobel Peace Prize,” he concluded.
Click here to read Kwame Anthony Appiah’s full remarks.
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 www.pen.org/china
Sarah Hoffman, (212) 334-1660 ext. 111