(NEW YORK)—Ahead of reports that Chinese authorities will put Xu Zhiyong—the legal scholar, essayist, and 2020 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write honoree—on trial for “subversion of state power” on Wednesday, June 22, PEN America released the following statement.

“The Chinese government is making a grave and shameful mistake by proceeding with the trial of Xu Zhiyong,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, director of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center at PEN America. “Xu has not committed a crime. He is a leading public intellectual using his words to try to hold the Chinese government accountable to Chinese citizens. Yet, he faces life in prison, following a rushed trial marred with due process violations after nearly two-and-a-half years in arbitrary detention. He has been held incommunicado and reportedly tortured. We call on the Chinese government to immediately drop all charges against Xu and release him from detention. We also urge an independent review of the harrowing reports that Xu has been tortured.”

In early December 2019, Xu Zhiyong met with colleagues at an informal gathering of civil society advocates in the coastal city of Xiamen; in the days and months after the meeting, Chinese security forces apprehended many of the attendees, including human rights lawyer and co-accused Ding Jiaxi. Xu Zhiyong was detained February 15, 2020 after months in hiding, during which time he wrote multiple open letters and online commentaries criticizing Chinese government policy. In August 2021, the government published an indictment alleging the activities at the Xiamen meeting constituted “subversion,” citing articles and essays as “evidence” of the crimes.

Xu faces a potential punishment of life in prison if convicted. His lawyer will reportedly plead his innocence of the crimes at trial. Trials involving government critics in China—including sentencing—commonly occur within one day, meaning it is likely that if Xu is convicted, his sentence will be announced the same day. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has issued opinions deeming the detentions of Xu and Ding to be arbitrary under international law, and has called for their immediate release. During 2021, China held at least 85 writers and public intellectuals in prison for their work, the most of any country in the world according to PEN America’s 2021 Freedom to Write Index.

On December 8, 2020, PEN America recognized Xu’s courage with the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, awarded annually to recognize an imprisoned writer targeted for their free expression. The award was accepted on his behalf by Xu Zhiyong’s fiancée, rights activist Li Qiaochu. Li was herself detained on February 6, 2021 on suspicion of “subversion” after posting information about Xu and Ding’s treatment in custody, including reports of torture. Li is currently still detained.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, STrimel@PEN.org, 201-247-5057