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China: Freedom of expression continuing its downward plunge

Tuesday 22 October 2013 - 1:00am

Freedom of expression in China remains in a perilous state, PEN International said today, as China appeared before the UN Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights record.

Dozens of writers, journalists and bloggers remain in prison simply for peacefully expressing their views, many serving harsh prison sentences, the organization said.

Even more worryingly, the most recent of a series of crackdowns on activists and writers has seen several prevented from leaving the country to attend the UPR session.

'In a period of unprecedented economic and cultural achievement, China chooses to repress the freedom of expression of its citizens,'said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International. 'Yet those citizens express over and over again their wish for true democracy.'

Since it was examined under the 2009 UPR, China has mostly failed to comply with recommendations it accepted, including those to strengthen and enhance protections for the cultural expression rights of ethnic minorities.

The Chinese authorities have also carried out a series of crackdowns aimed at silencing critical voices. Since President Xi Jinping took office in March 2013 a number of prominent rights advocates have been detained, including writers Yang Tongyan, and Zhu Yufu and there has been a widening government crackdown on online 'rumor-mongering'. There have also been alarming reports of reprisals against human rights activists ahead of the China UPR session in Geneva.

‘There is a noticeable deterioration in the human rights situation in China in recent months. Opinion leaders with popular blogs have been arrested and accused of offences such as disturbing public order,’ said Tienchi Martin, President of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre.

'We believe that these are trumped-up charges intended to cut them off from their public following. If so, they should be released immediately and unconditionally'.

PEN International is alarmed at the increasingly widespread use of forms of arbitrary detention, in which government critics are arrested without charge, or subjected to abduction, assault and intimidation. Of particular concern is the persecution of Liu Xia, wife of imprisoned dissident writer and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who has been held incommunicado under strict house arrest at her home in Beijing since 18 October 2010 and is denied any contact with the outside world. The organization is acutely concerned for her welfare and psychological integrity.

PEN International makes the following recommendations to the government of the People’s Republic of China:

• Restore and protect the right of all writers, journalists, and bloggers in China to exercise their right to legitimate freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Chinese constitution;
• Immediately and unconditionally release all writers, journalists, and bloggers who are currently imprisoned or detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expresssion;
• End all forms of surveillance and harassment of writers, journalists, and bloggers in China in connection with their peaceful views;
• End all forms of censorship and allow everyone in China to seek, impart, and receive information through digital media without unlawful hindrance;
• Respect and protect the right of writers and publishers in China to publish without fear of reprisals or government interference, and foster the creation of domestic and internationally-treasured literature and the growth of a world-class publishing industry;
• Protect the fundamental right of ethnic minorities and all who are living in so-called “sensitive regions” to full freedom of expression by supporting linguistic diversity and the right to education in their native tongue.

To see the full UPR submission click here.

PEN International celebrates literature and promotes freedom of expression. Founded in 1921, our global community of writers now comprises 146 Centres spanning more than 100 countries. Our programmes, campaigns, events and publications connect writers and readers for global solidarity and cooperation. PEN International is a non-political organization and holds consultative status at the United Nations and UNESCO.