PEN Releases Failing Progress Report on Free Expression in China

by Staff

Three international PEN centers have found that over the past year, as buildup to the Beijing Olympic Games has reached a crescendo, freedom of expression in China continues to be squelched by the Chinese government. This Tuesday, one month before the Olympics are scheduled to commence, PEN centers in Canada, China, and the United States released Failing to Deliver: An Olympic Year Report Card on Free Expression in China, reporting that there are currently more writers imprisoned in China than there were in December 2007, that nonconforming writers face harassment and severe restrictions on their movement and freedom to speak and publish, and that censorship has extended to the Internet.

Seven months ago, PEN American Center, PEN Canada, and the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC), all of which monitor international incidents of government repression and violations of free expression, were following the cases of forty journalists and writers incarcerated in Chinese prisons. Though PEN petitioned the Chinese government to release all writers, few were freed and several more have since been detained, bringing the number of cases to forty-four. Thirty of those writers were imprisoned for posting articles, interviews, and other writings on the Internet.

"It is not too late," said Marian Botsford Fraser, a representative of PEN Canada, in a press release. "There's still time for China to make good on the commitments it offered its own citizens and the international community when it bid to host the Olympics."

In order to host the games, China made a pledge that "there will be no restrictions on media reporting and movement of journalists up to and including the Olympic Games." In the report, PEN urges China to uphold its promise, cease Internet censorship and harassment of writers, and release all imprisoned writers and journalists." The report, which can be found on PEN American Center's Web site, also recommends that nations participating in the Olympics "seek viable and meaningful ways to hold China accountable to the pledges it made."

On the eve of the Olympics, August 7, U.S. writers including Edward Albee, Russell Banks, and Francine Prose will participate in an event honoring dissident Chinese writers with readings of statements and other works, many of which are previously untranslated, written by the imprisoned. The reading, sponsored by PEN American Center in collaboration with ICPC and held at the New School in New York City, is the culmination of PEN's eight-month We Are Ready for Freedom of Expression campaign focused on compelling China to release all jailed writers before this year's Olympic Games begin.