New York City, June 24, 2009— After spending more than six months in detention without charge or trial, prominent writer and literary critic Liu Xiaobo was formally arrested in Beijing on June 23 and charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” a move that PEN American Center today denounced as “transparently abusive” and “a deeply disappointing and anachronistic denial of Liu’s right to freedom of expression under Chinese and international law.” Liu, who is the former president and a current board member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, could face up to 15 years in prison.

“It is clear to the world that Liu Xiaobo’s so-called crime is simply promoting an open debate over China’s economic and political future,” said Larry Siems, Director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. “Already a prisoner for six months, Liu could now spend more than a decade in jail for exercising his most fundamental rights. This obvious violation of China’s own constitutional protections for freedom of expression only serves to underscore the urgency of the discussion Liu has so bravely promoted.”

Liu Xiaobo has been held under “residential surveillance” and was charged today with incitement to subversion for his role in the drafting of Charter 08, a manifesto calling for greater human rights and democracy in China. That document has been signed by over 8,500 Chinese citizens from all walks of life since it was released on the eve of Human Rights Day, December 10, 2008. Liu Xiaobo was taken into custody immediately before the Charter’s release, on the evening of December 8, 2008, and he has been held in an undisclosed location ever since. His wife, Liu Xia, has only been permitted to see him twice. He will now reportedly be moved to a formal detention center in Beijing. Liu Xiaobo’s lawyer, Mo Shaoping, has reportedly been barred from representing his client because he is a signatory to Charter 08.

“As China’s global role grows, it is crucial that we remind the Chinese leadership that global leadership brings responsibilities,” said K. Anthony Appiah, president of PEN American Center. “Among the most basic of these is the duty of allowing one’s own citizens to express their hopes for the nation. Liu Xiaobo is one of the leading voices in a growing movement of Chinese men and women who have been speaking clearly and bravely about the need for a greater respect for human rights in their country. We honor both the substance of his support for human rights and his bold and consistent exercise of the central political right of free expression.”

Liu Xiaobo has been one of China’s leading dissident voices for more than two decades. In the spring of 1989, Liu left his teaching post at Columbia University in New York and returned to Beijing to play a crucial role in the spreading 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. He spent two years in prison for his role, and another three years of “reeducation through labor” in 1996 for publicly questioning the role of the single-party system and calling for dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama of Tibet. In 2004, his phone lines and Internet connection were cut after the release of his essay criticizing the use of “subversion” charges used to silence journalists and activists, and he has been the target of regular police surveillance and harassment in the years since. On April 28, 2009, Liu Xiaobo was honored with the 2009 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award for his unyielding defense of freedom of expression in China.

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

For more information contact:
Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105