PEN International is disturbed by recent reports surrounding the disappearance of dissident writer and human rights activist, Yang Maodong (pen name, Guo Feixiong 郭飞雄). Yang’s wife, Zhang Qing, who tragically died from cancer on 10 January, had issued an appeal just weeks ago to the PRC government requesting that her husband be allowed to leave China and reunite with her in the US as her dying wish.
PEN International calls for Yang’s immediate and unconditional release and for the lifting of his travel ban so that he can be reunited with his children and live freely without fear of further persecution. Pending his release, Yang must be granted immediate and regular access to his family and lawyers.
In 2009, Zhang had fled to the US with the couple’s children where she claimed asylum following Yang’s imprisonment for exposing government corruption in China. In 2021, Yang was banned from leaving China after making several attempts to see his terminally ill wife in the US after she was diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer. Undeterred, Yang redoubled his efforts to reunite with his wife, undergoing a hunger strike in protest and on 29 November he penned an open letter appealing to Premier Li Keqiang. He disappeared just days later and is now thought to be detained incommunicado by the security services.
‘The Chinese government should have commended Yang Maodong for exposing corruption and peacefully advocating for the basic rights of his fellow citizens. Instead, the authorities have treated him with merciless cruelty, repeatedly imprisoning him for his peaceful expression, and even denying him the dignity of seeing his dying wife. PEN International stands in solidarity with Yang Maodong and calls for his immediate and unconditional release,’ said Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.
A determined human rights activist who uses his writing to highlight injustices and support the disenfranchised, Yang has previously been imprisoned on two separate occasions and has endured routine harassment by the authorities. In 2006, he was arrested and later sentenced to five years imprisonment following the publication of his book, Shenyang Political Earthquake (沈阳政坛地震), which exposed government corruption in China’s Liaoning province. In 2013, Yang was arrested again after he gave a speech in support of press freedom at an anti-censorship protest and was sentenced to six-years imprisonment for ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’, a charge routinely used to imprison those who engage in critical expression. While imprisoned, Yang underwent hunger strike for 101 days to protest his ill-treatment. He was released on 7 April 2019 after serving his full sentence.
Yang’s cruel and unjust treatment by the authorities is emblematic of the PRC government’s unrelenting persecution of dissident writers and activists. The PRC government’s increasing intolerance of any perceived criticism of their rule has resulted in an ongoing crackdown on civil society, constraining the space for free expression and imposing strict controls on access to information.
PEN International continues its call on the PRC authorities to end the persecution of writers and others who engage in peaceful expression, and for the government to take all necessary steps to guarantee the right to freedom of expression in China.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org