Liu Xiaobo, a renowned literary critic, writer, and political activist based in Beijing, has been detained since December 8, 2008, by Chinese authorities for his work. He was a professor at Beijing Normal University and has worked as a visiting scholar at several universities outside China, including the University of Oslo, the University of Hawaii, and Columbia University. He served as president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center from 2003 to 2007, and holds a seat on its board.
Liu Xiaobo was formally arrested on June 23, 2009, and charged with “inciting subversion of state power” for co-authoring Charter 08, a declaration calling for political reform, greater human rights, and an end to one-party rule in China.
In the spring of 1989, Liu left his post at Columbia 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 nonviolence on the part of the students. Liu spent two years in prison for his role in the demonstrations, and an additional 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 to silence journalists and activists, and he has been the target of regular police surveillance and harassment in the years since.
Just after 9 p.m. on December 8, 2008, Liu Xiaobo was detained by the Beijing Public Security Bureau on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” and held for six months and two weeks under “residential surveillance” at an undisclosed location in Beijing. He was held virtually incommunicado but for two visits from his wife, was not permitted access to a lawyer, and was denied writing materials. Liu Xiaobo was formally arrested on June 23, 2009, and charged with “inciting subversion of state power” for co-authoring Charter 08, a declaration calling for political reform, greater human rights, and an end to one-party rule in China that has been signed by thousands of individuals from all walks of life throughout the country. He has finally been able to meet with his lawyers at Beijing Detention Center No. 1, where he is now being held. If convicted of the subversion charge, he could face up to 15 years in prison.
Since Liu Xiaobo’s arrest, nearly all of the 303 original signatories of Charter 08 have been interrogated in a push to gather evidence against Liu and crack down on free expression in China. Although the Independent Chinese PEN Center did not play a role in the drafting of Charter 08, there are indications that authorities are attempting to link Liu Xiaobo’s participation in the promulgation of Charter 08 with his work with the center, a move that could signal further action against ICPC and its members.
To read more about Liu Xiaobo’s case, please visit PEN American Center.
PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of International PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organization and international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program, which works to protect the freedom of the written word, has been working to end China’s imprisonment, harassment, and surveillance of writers and journalists and curtail Internet censorship and other restrictions on the freedom to write in that country. For more information, please visit www.pen.org/china.