PEN International is shocked by the heavy sentencing of Hong Kong-based publisher Yao Wentian on May 7, 2014. Yao, who has been held in Shenzhen since October 27, 2013, was convicted by the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court on the charge of “smuggling prohibited items” and sentenced to a 10-year jail term. At the time of his arrest he was preparing to publish a book by U.S.-based dissident writer Yu Jie entitled Chinese Godfather Xi Jinping. PEN believes the trial and conviction to be politically motivated. Yao suffers from asthma and a heart complaint and there are serious concerns for his health.

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Background Information

According to PEN’s information, Yao Wentian (also known as Yiu Mantin) was arrested on October 27, 2013, at a friend’s house in Shenzhen while delivering industrial paint. The paint in question is legal, although an import duty is required for industrial usage, of which Yao was reportedly unaware. He was initially accused of "carrying prohibited items," later changed to the more serious charge of "smuggling ordinary goods/ items," which carries a sentence of between three years' to life imprisonment or even the death penalty, depending on the amount of tax evaded.

PEN believes that this is very likely to be a politically-motivated charge and that Yao's arrest and imprisonment are connected to his professional activities as a publisher, in particular his collaboration with dissident writer Yu Jie. According to Yu, Yao had received a threatening telephone call prior to his trip, in which the caller warned him not to go ahead with the publication of Yu’s latest book and alerted him to the possible consequences for his and his family’s personal safety should he ignore the warning. His son reports that Yao had previously been harassed for his collaboration with Yu, notably for his role in the publication of Hu Jintao: Harmony King, a critique of the former president’s concept of “harmonious society.” In September 2012, Yao reportedly wrote to Google complaining that his Gmail account had been hacked while he was preparing to print the book. According to his son, when his father was arrested, one of the customs officials told him, “We finally got you; you’re a big fish.”

Yao was initially taken to a detention center in Guangzhou but was quickly hospitalized following a deterioration of his health. On November 12, he was formally arrested under an order of the prosecution and transferred to the No. 2 Detention Center of Shenzhen City, where he has since been held at the prison medical facility. His lawyer submitted an application for medical parole in December 2013, but it has been rejected. At his trial in March, Yao’s defense team reportedly acknowledged some wrongdoing, but sought a light sentence claiming that he was not the main culprit. On May 7, 2014, Yao was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court; it is unclear whether he was present at the court at the time of his sentencing. He is reported to have until May 17 to lodge an appeal.

Yao Wentian, aged 73, is publisher and former chief editor of the Hong Kong-based Morning Bell Press. Since 2007 he has worked closely with dissident writers, including many members of the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC), to publish books that have been banned in mainland China. His publications include the Collected Literary Works of Chinese Writers in Prison and an ICPC Membership Literature Series, of which more than a dozen volumes have been published. More of his publications can be found here.Yao’s arrest and conviction come amidst a reported crackdown by mainland censors on Hong Kong and Taiwanese works deemed “vulgar” or “politically harmful.”

Since April 24, 2014, in the run-up to the 25th anniversary of the brutal June 4th crackdown on pro-democracy protests, six dissident writers have been detained for their dissident activities and writings.

Write A Letter

  • Expressing serious concern for the heavy sentencing and health of publisher Yao Wentian, and calling for his immediate and unconditional release if, as feared, he is being persecuted for his professional activities through politically-motivated criminal charges;
  • Protesting the renewed crackdown on government critics, and reminding President Xi of his commitment to tackle official corruption;
  • Reminding the Chinese authorities that Article 35 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China provides for freedom of speech and that as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides for freedom of legitimate expression, the right not to be arbitrarily detained and the right to a fair trial, they are obliged to “refrain from acts that would defeat or undermine the treaty’s objective and purpose.”

Send Your Letter To

His Excellency Xi Jinping
President of the People’s Republic of China
State Council
Beijing 100032
P.R. China
Fax: +86 10 6238 1025
Salutation: Your Excellency

Please send copies to the Chinese Embassy in your country.

**Please contact PEN if sending appeals after June 12, 2014.  Please keep us informed of any action you take in regard to Yao Wentian’s case, including any responses you receive from the authorities.**