Writers Ring in New Year with Call to Free Liu Xiaobo
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New York City, December 31, 2009—E.L. Doctorow, Don DeLillo, A.M. Homes, Edward Albee and dozens of other members of PEN American Center staged a New Year’s Eve rally this morning on the steps of the New York Public Library to protest the imprisonment of writer Liu Xiaobo in China.
Liu, one of China’s most acclaimed writers and a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, was sentenced on Christmas day to an 11-year prison term for “inciting subversion of state power” in connection with his writings and with Charter 08, a petition he co-authored and circulated last year. The rally, held on a wintry morning on the eve of PEN’s 50th year as the leading voice for persecuted writers around the world, brought both denunciations of what PEN American Center President Anthony Appiah called the “shameful official verdict” of the Beijing court and spirited calls for action in support of China’s leading dissident voice.
“We want to express and explain our outrage, to commit ourselves to working for Liu’s release, and to urge all those in this country and around the world who care about free expression to join us,” Appiah announced in his opening remarks.
“Liu Xiaobo has been condemned to 11 years in prison for seven published sentences,” he continued. “These sentences consisted of just 224 Chinese characters. In their official verdict, the Beijing Court cited the exact passages from Liu’s writings that were judged to be subversive.”
“Today we are going to read all seven sentences,” Appiah declared.
Several of PEN’s leading voices followed Appiah to the microphone to read those sentences. A.M. Homes, Edward Albee, Victoria Redel, Jessica Hagedorn, Don DeLillo, Honor Moore, and E.L. Doctorow read selections from Liu’s poetry as well, interspersed with chilling passages from last week’s verdict.
“Public Security searched Liu Xiaobo’s residence and found the tools that Liu Xiaobo used to write the documents and to send them to websites,” A.M. Homes quoted from the court document. “Two notebook computers, one desktop computer, and one copy of a printed document ‘Charter 08—Request for Comments.”
Victoria Redel and Jessica Hagedorn read a litany of Liu’s alleged offenses, describing how an investigating officer had “found and downloaded” the offending passages on web pages that had received, respectively, 402, 748, 512, 57, and 488 hits—“crimes,” as Honor Moore recited from a later passage, of a “major criminal” who “should be severely punished according to law.”
“This court believes that the defendant Liu Xiaobo, with the purpose of inciting the overthrow of our country’s people’s democratic dictatorship system and our socialist system, used the Internet to distribute his document because of its rapid speed, great scope, large social influence and the attention which the people pay to it,” Moore read.
Against this backdrop of grim, bureaucratic prose, Edward Albee, Don DeLillo, and E.L. Doctorow brought Liu Xiaobo’s own words to life, reading three poems Liu had written to his wife while serving a previous three-year sentence of “re-education through labor” in the late 1990s. From a poem titled “Daybreak,” Albee read:
what is the difference
between the light and the darkness
that seems to surface through my eyes’
apertures, from my seat of rust
I can’t tell if it’s the glint of chains
in the cell, or the god of nature
behind the wall
Don DeLillo followed with “Longing to Escape,” in which Liu imagines himself at home:
a cat closes in behind
you, I want to shoo him away
as he turns his head, extends
a sharp claw toward me
deep within his blue eyes
there seems to be in prison.
Finally, in a fitting conclusion to a short program that celebrated the power of words, E.L. Doctorow read from Liu’s poem “One Letter,” which begins:
one letter is enough
for me to transcend and face
you to speak.
Following the event, PEN delivered a letter to the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations calling on Chinese president Hu Jintao to intervene in the case. Taking issue with Chinese government’s assertions that international protests over Liu’s trial amounted to interference in China’s internal affairs, PEN writes,
In fact, the treatment of Liu Xiaobo is an international matter, just as all violations of human rights are matters of serious concern to the whole world. By detaining for more than a year, and then by convicting and sentencing Mr. Liu to 11 years in prison in clear violation of his most fundamental, internationally-recognized rights, the People’s Republic of China itself has guaranteed that his case is not and cannot be a purely internal affair.
Human rights are the legitimate concern of all human beings. That principle was established firmly in by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. We in the United States have profited greatly from the work of Chinese writers from Confucius to the present day; you in China have drawn inspiration from works from all around the world. Indeed, without this cross-fertilization of ideas, the Chinese Communist Party itself could not have come into existence. The free exchange of ideas within and across nations is of the greatest importance for all mankind.
The letter, submitted on behalf of the 3,400 members of PEN American Center, urges Hu “to undo this egregious injustice and free Liu Xiaobo immediately.”
“Today’s event marks the beginning of our efforts win Liu Xiaobo’s release,” said Larry Siems, PEN American Center’s Freedom to Write Program Director after the program. “Liu Xiaobo is not only an important writer but also a PEN member, a former president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, which is doing heroic, on-the-ground work to expand freedom of expression in China. He is one of five PEN colleagues currently in prison in China. We will not rest until all of them are free.”
Executive Director Steven L. Isenberg added, “Today PEN members stood by Liu Xiaobo in an hour of deep concern and called for the light of the new year—the 50th anniversary of PEN’s efforts on behalf of writers in prison—and for the fellowship of writers everywhere and the conscience of nations to illuminate this dark corner of repression.”
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, please visit www.pen.org
For more information contact:
Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105, cell (646) 359-0594
Sarah Hoffman, (212) 334-1660 ext. 111, cell (201) 874-9849