New York City, April 29, 2009—On a night that held the spotlight on China’s human rights record, PEN American Center on Tuesday honored Liu Xiaobo, one of China’s preeminent dissident writers and activists and a leading figure in the PEN movement internationally, with the 2009 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. Liu, who was detained on December 8, 2008 for co-authoring a declaration for political and human rights reforms, is being held without charge or trial under “residential surveillance” at an unknown location in Beijing.

An intellectual and literary critic, Liu Xiaobo has spent much of his adult life as a target of the Chinese government. He played a crucial role in the 1989 pro-democracy movement, staging a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square in support of the students and leading calls for a truly broad-based, sustainable democratic movement. He was instrumental in preventing even further bloodshed in the Square by supporting and advancing a call for non-violence on the part of the students. Even after spending two years in prison for his role, Liu Xiaobo continued to speak and write in favor of freedom of expression and democracy. He spent an additional three years in a reeducation-through-labor camp beginning in 1996, and was regularly detained, harassed, and surveilled until his most recent arrest.

Liu Xiaobo was honored last night for his life’s work, during which he has also been a leading figure in the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC), a center of the international literary and human rights organization that is doing courageous, on-the-ground advocacy work in China despite constant pressure from Chinese authorities. Liu served as President of ICPC from 2003 to 2007 and currently holds a seat on its Board.

Last night, in a moving statement prepared in Beijing and read by ICPC Deputy Secretary-General Li Jianglin, Liu Xia, Liu Xiaobo’s wife, said, “I understand that this award is not meant to encourage Liu Xiaobo, the poet, but rather to encourage Liu Xiaobo, the political commentator and initiator of Charter 08. I would like to remind everyone of the close connection between these two identities. I feel that Xiaobo is using his intensity and passion as a poet to push the democracy movement forward in China. He shouts passionately as a poet ‘no, no, no!’ to the dictators.”

“[But] in private, he whispers gently to the dead souls of June 4th, who, to this day, have not received justice, as well as to me and to all his dear friends: ‘yes, yes,’” Ms. Liu concluded.

On December 8, 2008, Liu Xiaobo was arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.” The arrest came on the eve of the release of Charter 08, an extraordinary declaration that Liu had co-authored calling for political reform, greater human rights, and an end to one-party rule in China. Police arrived at his home just after 9:00 p.m., and at 11:00 p.m., they took him into custody and searched his home, confiscating computers and other materials. Since his arrest, nearly all of the original signatories of Charter 08 have been interrogated in a push to gather evidence on Liu. Despite this crackdown, the document has now been signed by more than 8,500 people from all walks of life throughout China.

“Art can change things, and protest really makes a big difference,” said PEN Member Edward Albee during the event. “What I would say to Liu is, very simply, ‘Thank you for what you’re doing. Please keep it up. We are with you.’”

PEN American Center is among the 145 worldwide centers of International PEN, an organization that works to promote friendship and intellectual cooperation among writers everywhere, to fight for freedom of expression, and represent the conscience of world literature. It has been working together with the Independent Chinese PEN Center to protest China’s imprisonment, harassment, and surveillance of writers and journalists and to seek an end to Internet censorship and other restrictions on the freedom to write in that country. For more information, please visit


Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105