New York, January 20, 2009—Over 300 members of International PEN, the world writers’ association, have joined together to protest the ongoing detention of prominent Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo by the Chinese authorities. Wole Soyinka, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, J.M. Coetzee, Tom Stoppard, Umberto Eco, Jung Chang, Ian McEwan and Azar Nafisi are among the signatories calling for the immediate release of Liu Xiaobo and championing his right to freedom of expression.

Liu Xiaobo, former President and current Board member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center has been detained since December 8, 2008 for signing Charter 08, a declaration expressing the need for political reform and human rights in China. He is one of many dissidents to be detained or harassed after launching Charter 08 and issuing an open letter to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Since the declaration was launched, over 7,000 journalists, writers, scholars and activists have become signatories despite the Chinese government shutting down all web sites referring to Charter 08.

Members of International PEN are shocked by the apparent crackdown of the Chinese authorities on those who have endorsed the Charter:

“Liu Xiaobo’s arrest and continued detention for being one of the original signatories of Charter 08, which calls for greater freedom of expression and democracy, demonstrates the extent of the ongoing restrictions imposed upon the people of China. We call for his immediate release,” says Caroline McCormick, Executive Director of International PEN.

International PEN has for many years had significant concerns about freedom of expression in China, where the large numbers of writers and journalists harassed, detained and imprisoned for calling for improved civil and political rights have remained largely unchanged. PEN also has serious concerns about prison conditions, ill-health, access to medical care and family visits. The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing highlighted ongoing human rights and freedom of expression abuses in China despite the Chinese authorities’ promise to improve conditions and honor the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it is a signatory. Five months after the Games ended, and international scrutiny has been focused elsewhere, PEN continues to campaign against the ongoing persecution of writers exercising their right to freedom of expression.

There are over 40 writers and journalists currently detained in the PRC, making China the largest jailer of writers worldwide. Sentences range from 3-20 years, with the majority of cases serving sentences of over eight years. PEN is particularly concerned about the rise of Internet writers being detained and generally held under subversion or state secrets laws, including Shi Tao, who is serving a 10-year sentence for “revealing state secrets” for emailing his notes from a government briefing meeting. Minority issues are a key concern in the autonomous regions of Tibet and Xinjiang where “separatist struggles” place writers at risk of arrest.

Liu Xiaobo first received support from PEN 20 years ago, when, in 1989, he was one of a group of writers and intellectuals given the label the “Black Hands of Beijing” by the government, and arrested for their part in the Tiananmen Square protests. Liu has since spent a total of five years in prison, including a three-year sentence passed in 1996, and he has suffered frequent short arrests, harassment and censorship. Liu Xiaobo is currently being held under Residential Surveillance at an undisclosed location in Beijing. No charges have as yet been made known.

Originally founded in 1921 to promote literature, today International PEN, the world writers’ association, represents over 15,000 members in 144 Centers from 102 countries across the globe. Our primary goal is to engage with, and empower, societies and communities across cultures and languages, through reading and writing. We believe that writers can play a crucial role in changing and developing civil society. We do this through the promotion of literature, international campaigning on issues such as translation and freedom of expression and improving access to literature at international, regional and national levels. Our membership is open to all published writers who subscribe to the PEN Charter regardless of nationality, language, race, colour or religion. International PEN is a non-political organisation and has special consultative status at UNESCO and the United Nations.

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