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China: Poet and member of Independent Chinese PEN, Zhang Guiqi, sentenced to six years’ imprisonment

Thursday 28 July 2022 - 6:28pm

Sabrina Tucci
PEN International
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sabrina.tucci@pen-international.org
+44 7738301325

Zhang Guiqi - Image courtesy of ICPC

PEN International is alarmed by reports that poet and member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC), Zhang Guiqi (張桂祺), has been sentenced to six years’ imprisonment and a further three years’ deprivation of his political rights.

The sentencing took place behind closed doors on 26 July 2022, over two years after Zhang was initially detained for “inciting subversion of state power”, a charge that has been routinely used by the PRC authorities to target dissidents and those who have publicly criticised the government.

While the authorities have yet to share the judgement with his family, claiming that it is a state secret, the conviction is thought to relate to a video that Zhang shared with a small group on social media just hours before he was initially detained in May 2020. The video featured a recording of Zhang in which he called for President Xi Jinping to step down and for an end to the “CCP’s regime”. In an interview with Radio Free Asia published on 27 July 2022, Zhang’s Guiqi’s wife has shared how she has also been persecuted by the authorities, who have forcibly shut down a private teaching company that she jointly owned with her husband, severely restraining her ability to earn a living.

‘The heavy sentence handed down against Zhang Guiqi, for a video he shared with a group of less than 100 people, is a damning example of the level of repression faced by anyone who publicly criticises the regime in China. PEN International strongly opposes Zhang’s conviction. We call for his immediate and unconditional release, and for his sentencing and conviction to be overturned’, said Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

Zhang Guiqi, commonly known by his pen name, Lu Yang (鲁杨), is a poet and former teacher from the Shandong province in eastern China. He has acted as founder, editor and publisher for several online poetry platforms, including the Chinese Contemporary Poetry Platform, which was forced to shut down in 2007 following a directive issued by PRC government censors. In 2008, he became a signatory to the seminal Charter 08 document, which called for greater human rights protections and political reform in China.

After the detention of one of Charter 08’s authors, writer, Nobel Peace Prize Winner and former president of ICPC, Liu Xiaobo, Zhang joined the PEN Centre as a member. Over the following years he was an outspoken activist in support of free expression in China, supporting public intellectuals who have been persecuted for their peaceful expression.

The severe sentence imposed on Zhang for his peaceful expression is indicative of the level of intolerance that the PRC government has towards any criticism of its rule. The effective criminalisation of peaceful dissent has led to the widespread persecution of writers, scholars, and other public intellectuals across the country, constraining the space for free expression and imposing strict controls on access to information.

PEN International continues to call on the PRC government to end the persecution of writers and others who engage in peaceful expression, and for an end to the use of national security legislation to unjustly prosecute those with dissenting views.

For further information please contact Ross Holder, Asia Programme Coordinator at PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: ross.holder@pen-international.org