PEN’s bedrock work is long-term advocacy on behalf of individual writers who are being persecuted because of their work. With the help of members and supporters, PEN carries out campaigns to win their release and ensure they are safe and can write and publish freely. More
LIU XIA, poet, artist, and founding member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, has been under house arrest in China since 2010. Today, despite the Chinese government’s assurances that she is free, we are gravely concerned about her health, safety, and freedom.
Liu Xia is a distinguished poet and artist and is also well-known as the wife of Liu Xiaobo, who died from liver cancer on July 13, 2017. Liu Xiaobo, a high-profile writer and dissident, had been imprisoned since 2008 for his writings and for his call for democratic reform in China. In 2010, the Nobel Committee announced that Liu Xiaobo would receive the Nobel Peace Prize; the next day, Chinese authorities placed Liu Xia under house arrest without any legal justification and with the clear goal of controlling Liu Xia and preventing her from being a voice for her husband’s freedom.
On June 26, 2017, Liu Xiaobo was released on medical parole to a hospital in Shenyang, Liaoning province for late stage liver cancer. Authorities placed restrictions on access to him but permitted both his wife, Liu Xia, and his family to visit him. Liu Xiaobo died in Liaoning on July 13, 2017. In a July 15 press briefing, a Chinese authority stated that, “Liu Xia is free.” However, Liu Xia remains incommunicado and under strict monitoring by the authorities.
Zehra Doğan, a Turkish journalist and artist, was sentenced on March 24, 2017 to two years and ten months in prison for creating a painting of a Turkish city heavily damaged by state security forces. Despite arguing that she made the painting as part of her work as a registered journalist, Doğan was charged with having connections to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is fighting an insurgency against the Turkish government. PEN America condemns Zehra Doğan’s arrest and prison sentence as an unacceptable infringement of the right of both journalists and artists to free expression.
ARTISTS AT RISK
Throughout the past year, disturbing violations of the right to create, access, and enjoy the arts have occurred across the globe. Dozens of creative artists are currently serving prison terms for exercising their right to freedom of expression, while others face physical attacks and harassment, and many more self-censor to avoid harassment and persecution. Because creative expression is not a crime in most countries, governments often conceal suppression under the guise of religious, moral, or political concerns.