New York City, September 27, 2012—PEN President Peter Godwin and World Voices Chair Salman Rushdie sent a letter to Chinese authorities today protesting the travel restrictions against artist Ai Weiwei, who has been prevented from appearing at a PEN event on October 11 in New York City.

Ai, who lived in New York from 1981 to 1993 and has since become an increasingly vocal critical voice inside China, was detained by authorities in Beijing last April in the wake of one of the worst crackdowns against writers and intellectuals the country had seen in years. Ai was held incommunicado for 81 days, and when he was finally released after a forced confession of tax evasion, he was placed on probation for one year. Though his probation expired in June 2012, authorities still hold his passport, despite Ai’s repeated requests that it be returned so that he could fulfill his international obligations.

“Like our colleagues throughout the world’s art and literary communities, we were shocked when Ai Weiwei was detained in 2011, and we are deeply disappointed to learn that he remains unable to travel freely and participate in international fora and conversations in which he has so clearly earned a place,” Godwin and Rushdie said in the letter. “We believe restricting his right to travel abroad risks violating Chinese and international laws, and that it does little to advance the goals and aspirations of the Chinese government and its people. We therefore entreat you to return Ai Weiwei’s passport immediately and lift all restrictions against him, allowing him to travel to represent his own work and his ideas. We very much look forward to welcoming him back to New York.”

In addition to the PEN event in New York, Ai Weiwei was due to participate in The New Yorker Festival, give talks at Harvard, Princeton, and New York University, and appear at the first North American survey of his own work at the Hirshorn Museum, part of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.

PEN American Center is the largest of the 144 centers of PEN International, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession.

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