(New York)—PEN America today condemned the sentencing of Chinese poet and activist Wang Yuwen (Wang Zang) to four years in prison and his wife, Wang Liqin, to two and a half years in prison, and called upon the Chinese government to release them. The organization said the sentences demonstrate the “repressive environment for free expression in China.”

“We condemn the sentencing of Wang Zang for exercising his freedom to write, and of his wife Wang Liqin whose only apparent ‘crime’ was advocating for her husband’s rights,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, inaugural director of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center. “The four-year sentence for Wang’s writing, art, and speech under the guise of a national security crime demonstrates the repressive environment for free expression in China. Both Wang Zang and his wife’s trials have been marked at every point by secrecy and repression, a far cry from international fair trial guarantees. We call on authorities to vacate Wang Zang and Wang Liqin’s sentences and to demonstrate respect for freedom of expression.”

Wang Zang was detained on May 30, 2020 and formally arrested two months later for “inciting subversion of state power.” The reported evidence against him included his recent poetry, essays, performance artworks, and interviews with foreign media. Wang’s wife Wang Liqin was later detained for advocating online for his release. Wang and his wife stood trial behind closed doors in December 2021. The trial lasted one day and his defense lawyer was not permitted to appear in court, with authorities reportedly revoking his license. Wang Zang was sentenced to four years in prison last month; his wife was sentenced to two years and six months in prison. Their sentencing was reported publicly nearly a year after the trial. Wang Zang is currently in the process of appealing his case.

In January 2021, PEN America and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre filed a complaint on behalf of Wang Zang and Wang Liqin with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The complaint said the couple had been arbitrarily and unjustly detained for exercising their human rights to free expression and association, while highlighting the significant harassment and threats by authorities against Wang’s family after his arrest.

According to PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, China jailed the most writers and public intellectuals globally during 2021. Writers who criticize government actions and propose even modest reforms have been imprisoned. Many recent trials of Chinese writers have lacked transparency as a result of significant delays in announcing court judgements and the withholding of information justified by allegations of national security crimes. For example, in June 2022, essayist Xu Zhiyong, PEN America’s 2020 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write honoree, was tried behind closed doors for “subversion of state power”; his verdict is yet to be released. The six-year sentence of poet Zhang Guiqi for “inciting subversion” was announced in July 2022, ten months after his closed door trial in September 2020.

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, [email protected], 201-247-5057