Dissident poet, academic and former President of International Chinese PEN Centre, Liu Xiaobo [shou-bo], was imprisoned on Christmas Day 2009 for eleven years. Liu had been held in detention since December 2008 on charges of ‘incitement to subversion of state power’ and ‘spreading rumours defaming the government’. Arrested for signing Charter 08, a declaration calling for political reforms and human rights, which was previously believed to carry a maximum five-year prison sentence.
In October 2010, Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, a cause of celebration by the international human rights community. Immediately after he was informed of the Prize by his wife, Liu Xia, she was placed under house arrest along with several Independent Chinese PEN members and supporters. Sydney PEN issued a collective release with New Zealand, Philippines, Korean, Melbourne and Chinese PEN calling for Liu Xiaobo’s release. The chair of our Writers in Prison program, Dr Christopher Michaelsen, issued an op-ed in The Canberra Times calling on stronger diplomatic response from the Australian government, to China’s stifling of Liu Xiaobo, his family, and to its dismissal of his Prize.
Liu was first arrested in 1989 for his role during the Tiananmen Square protests. He was imprisoned on two more occasions before being arrested days before the release of Charter 08, which has now garnered thousands of online signatories. The United Nations and the American government, as well as International PEN, have strongly urged China to release Liu.
Sydney PEN ran a public letter campaign during Liu’s detention. In January 2010, we released a statement urging the Australian government to make a public response to Liu’s case, however while this received media attention it did not prompt a response from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd nor from Ambassador Dr Geoff Raby. Shortly after, Frank Moorhouse, a member of Sydney PEN’s Writers Panel, withdrew from a planned tour of China and Sydney PEN released his open letter along with a statement of support. At the Sydney Writers’ Festival 2010, some of Liu’s translated writings will feature in an installation by Sydney PEN.
His two-day trial lasted three hours on December 23 2009 and the verdict was delivered on December 25 2009 while Western media and audiences were distracted. In February 2010, Liu appealed his sentence but his lawyers were not permitted a hearing at the appeal and it was quashed. Many supports of Liu’s release and other human rights activists have been shocked by the length of his sentence. Following his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, new and continuing supporters around the world are lobbying the Chinese government to recognise his achievement through releasing him.