New York, February 17, 2009—PEN American Center expressed relief today at the news that imprisoned writer, historian, and winner of the 2002 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, Tohti Tunyaz, was released from prison in China last week after serving an 11-year sentence for “stealing state secrets” and “inciting national disunity.” However, concerns remain for the 45 writers still imprisoned in China, including prominent PEN member Liu Xiaobo.

According to PEN’s information, Uighur writer Tohti Tunyaz was released from Xinjiang No. 3 Prison in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Prefecture in northwestern China, on expiry of his 11-year sentence. Tunyaz had been studying for his Ph.D in Uighur history and ethnic relations at Tokyo University’s School of Humanities in Japan and was arrested when he returned to his homeland on a research trip in February 1998. On November 10, 1998, Chinese authorities charged Tunyaz with “stealing state secrets for foreign persons” and “inciting national disunity,” and, following an appeal, China’s Supreme Court sentenced him on February 15, 2000 to 11 years in prison with an additional two years’ deprivation of political rights. It is believed that he was jailed in connection with his research on Uighur history. Throughout his imprisonment, Tunyaz was never permitted a visit from his wife, who is now a naturalized citizen in Japan.

“Though Tohti Tunyaz was forced to complete a prison term solely for his peaceful academic work, we are greatly relieved to know that he has in fact been released,” said Larry Siems, Director of Freedom to Write and International Programs. “We call on Chinese authorities to lift all restrictions against him and allow him to rejoin his wife in Japan.”

Tunyaz’s release came on the eve of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s first official visit to China, at a time when the Chinese government is cracking down on signatories of Charter 08, a manifesto calling for political forms and human rights inside China. PEN delivered a letter to Secretary Clinton last week urging her to bring up the case of prominent writer Liu Xiaobo, a board member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center who co-authored the charter and who has been detained on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” since December 8, 2008. If convicted, he could face at least three years in prison. Secretary Clinton will arrive in China on Friday.

“Liu Xiaobo, a PEN colleague and one of China’s most forceful voices for freedom of expression, has been detained in clear violation of Chinese and international law in the lead-up to the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown,” Siems said. “If the Chinese government is truly serious about improving its human rights record, as it promised to do before last year’s Olympic Games, it will release him immediately and unconditionally.”

A petition calling for Liu’s release, signed by hundreds of PEN members around the world, including Salman Rushdie, Edward Albee, and Margaret Atwood, is currently circulating.

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of International PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession. For more information on PEN’s work to free all writers currently imprisoned in China, please visit

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