(New York, NY) — Police in China have reportedly threatened women’s rights activist Li Qiaochu with detention if she continues speaking about the case of her detained fiancé Xu Zhiyong, an appalling attempt to browbeat her into silence, PEN America said today.

“Threatening someone for speaking out about the people they love is a tactic for extortionists, not for governments that claim to respect the rule of law,” said Summer Lopez, PEN America’s senior director of free expression programs. “We condemn such repressive and abusive tactics, and call upon the Chinese government to dismiss the politically-motivated and spurious charges against both Li Qiaochu and Xu Zhiyong.”

Li is a labor and social rights activist who has been active in China’s #MeToo movement. Li is also the fiancée of Xu Zhiyong, a prominent rights activist and essayist who has spent the last eight months in incommunicado detention. He faces charges of “incitement to subversion.” Li has used her social media accounts to advocate on Xu’s behalf, even while she faces potential criminal charges.

On November 26, Li tweeted that she had been called to meet with police. At that meeting, police briefly detained her and confiscated her cellphone and computer. She was released into her parents’ custody the next day, after her father signed a ‘guarantee’ committing to keep Li isolated from the outside world. Li was also warned that she would be detained again if she continued speaking out about Xu’s case.

Li was herself detained by police on February 16 on suspicion of incitement to subversion, the day after Xu was arrested, and spent more than four months in incommunicado detention before being conditionally released on bail. Under this arrangement, prosecutors have the discretion to re-arrest Li at any time within the next year.

Xu is this year’s recipient of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. Li is scheduled to receive the award on his behalf at the PEN America virtual gala celebration on Tuesday, December 8. Additional honorees at that event include  President Barack Obama, Patti Smith, Marie Yovanovitch, and Darnella Frazier. In recorded video remarks, 

On November 16, PEN America released an open letter calling for the release of Xu Zhiyong, signed by a group of distinguished writers from around the world. The accompanying public petition, China must release detained essayist Xu Zhiyong, is open for signatures.