It has been ten years since the Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned literary critic and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo.
“The ideas Liu Xiaobo represented—that all people are equal, that they have the right to lead their lives as they wish, that individual liberty is the core of humanity, that we respect the dignity of each individual—became anathema for those in power in China. They jailed him for his words and ideas and only granted him medical parole when he had little time left. They tried to get the world to forget him; the world won't, just as the world won't forget the poets, writers, publishers, and intellectuals who continue to remain in jail in China, denied their freedoms and their platform.” Salil Tripathi, Chair, PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, Writer and Journalist.
To mark this anniversary PEN International are campaigning around five writers currently in detention in the People’s Republic of China (PRC): Gui Minhai, Chimengül Awut, Kunchok Tsephel, Yang Hengjun and Qin Yongmin. We urge you to download the template letters for each writer, modify them if you like, sign them, then send them to the PRC Embassy in Canberra. And if you share about it please use the hashtag #LiuXiaoboanniversary.
We also invite you to join PEN Sydney at the Human Rights Day protest at 10:00am on Dec 10 in Martin Place.
Dr Yang Hengjun is an Australian writer who has been detained in China on charges of espionage since early 2019. Yang studied at the University of Technology in Sydney, his work includes; political commentary, an influential blog and a fictional spy trilogy. He was first detained in 2011, while on a visit to Guangzhou, part of a wider crackdown on Chinese dissidents during the “jasmine revolution”. He was released and returned to Australia but later spent time in the USA as a visiting scholar at Columbia University. His wife and daughter have received permanent residency status in Australia but are currently barred from leaving the PRC.
Image suppled by Joshua L. Freeman
Perhat Tursun has been described as one of the most influential contemporary Uyghur authors. A poet, a novelist, he is also a victim of the PRC’s re-education campaign in Xinjiang, he disappeared in 2018. Information on his exact whereabouts or the accusations against him are difficult to ascertain, however his detention came amidst a campaign of mass detentions targeting Uyghur Muslims in the PRC. It is believed that Tursun has been sentenced to 16 years in prison. A self-described Kafka character, his work touches on the themes of mental illness, suicide, alienation, obscenity and sexuality.
Gui Minhai was born in Ningbo, Eastern China in 1964. He studied in Sweden, had children there, and was naturalised as a Swedish citizen. Gui returned to work in the PRC in the early 2000s, and became actively involved in promoting freedom of expression and campaigning against the imprisonment of writers. He later bought the Causeway Bay Bookstore in Hong Kong, which had a reputation for selling politically sensitive books. Gui, along with his business partners, disappeared in 2015. On 24 February 2020, Gui was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on intelligence charges. The specific charge relates to supplying intelligence to people overseas, which is dubious given Gui’s lack of access to any government or classified intelligence.
Qin Yongmin has been a human rights and pro-democracy activist for over 20 years. He established the activist group Human Rights Watch in China and has worked fearlessly and at great personal cost to seek greater dialogue between the PRC government and Chinese civil society. He was first detained in 1982 and has spent time in ‘re-education’ forced labour camps, where he has reportedly suffered extensive torture. In 2015 he was again detained and three years later sentenced to 13 years imprisonment. At 67 years old he will have spent the majority of his life in detention by the time of his release in 2028.
Kunchok Tsephel Gopey Tsang is a Tibetan and English language teacher and human rights defender. He was born in the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Northwest China. In 2005, along with renowned Tibetan poet Kabchen Dedrol, he established Chomei, the first website dedicated to the promotion of Tibetan art and literature within the PRC. The website was closely monitored and forced to shut down several times between 2007-2008. In 2009, Kunchok was charged with ‘disclosing state secrets’ in a closed hearing at the Intermediate People’s Court of Kanlho. Due to the vague nature of these charges and the lack of transparency of the legal proceedings against him, it is difficult to ascertain the official basis of his sentencing. He remains detained and is said to have developed painful medical conditions.