London, 6 January 2016
An upsurge in cases of possible enforced disappearances in China in the context of an ongoing crackdown on dissent is deeply worrying, PEN International, the global writers’ organisation said today. Since November 2015, five Chinese writers, publishers and booksellers have disappeared in China and Thailand and PEN believes that it is highly likely that they are detained by the Chinese authorities in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance.
‘We are very worried about the fate of these five individuals connected with the publishing industry,’ said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.
‘We know that China has all too often resorted to enforced disappearances to pressure critical voices to recant or ‘confess’ to alleged ‘offences’ when they have merely been expressing themselves freely. The authorities must come clean as to whether or not they are holding any or all of these five and release them if they are held in connection with their freedom of expression.’
Since October 2015, five employees of the publisher Mighty Current and its retail arm Causeway Book Store have disappeared. They include writer, publisher and former Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC) Board member, Gui Minhai – also a Swedish citizen – who disappeared in Thailand in October and is believed to have been deported back to China; Causeway Book Store manager, Lin Rongji, general manager Lu Bo and staff member of the publishing house and book shop, Zhang Zhiping, who are reported to have disappeared while travelling in mainland China in October; editor at the publishing house, Lee Bo, also a British citizen, who disappeared from Hong Kong on 30 December.
According to news reports, Lee Bo has written a letter to his wife stating that he travelled to Shenzhen in mainland China "by my own means, to cooperate with an investigation carried out by relevant department." There are concerns that he may have written this statement under duress and that he is in fact detained.
Mighty Current has published and marketed books highly critical of mainland China. The titles are banned on the mainland, where the news media and the publishing industry are tightly controlled by the government.
Enforced disappearance – a crime under international law – is committed when state agents, or those acting on behalf of the state, arrest, detain or abduct a person against their will and either deny holding the person or fail to disclose their whereabouts, thereby placing them outside the protection of the law. China is not a state party to the International Convention For The Protection Of All Persons From Enforced Disappearance and PEN International calls on the Chinese authorities to ratify it without delay.
PEN International calls on the Chinese authorities to reveal as a matter of urgency whether or not they are holding the five writers, publishers and booksellers, and if so, to allow them immediate and regular access to their families and lawyers of their choosing. If they are being held solely on account of the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, they should also be released immediately and unconditionally.
PEN has long been concerned by the Chinese state’s track record of using enforced disappearances to silence dissent. In January 2014, writer, academic and member of Uyghur PEN, Ilham Tohti, was arrested at his home. The Chinese authorities refused to disclose his whereabouts for some 10 days.
In February that same year, writer and ICPC member, Li Jianhong, was arrested after she re-entered China following years in exile in Sweden where she had continued her peaceful criticism of the Chinese authorities. She was held incommunicado at an undisclosed location for two days prior to her release.
On 24 April 2014, Gao Yu – a highly respected journalist and member of ICPC and honorary member of several PEN Centres – went missing. It took 14 days for the Chinese authorities to confirm that she was being held by Beijing police when she appeared in a televised ‘confession’ shown on China’s national broadcaster CCTV in an early morning news programme. The authorities did not disclose her location at that time.
Other bodies have also expressed concern about the practice of enforced disappearance in China. In 2011, the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances expressed concern about the growing practice in China, noting that there was ‘a pattern of enforced disappearances in China, where persons suspected of dissent are taken to secret detention facilities, and are then often tortured and intimidated, before being released or put into “soft detention” and barred from contacting the outside world’.
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