The Beijing Olympics provoked intense international scrutiny, not least because of the blatant disregard for freedom of expression that surrounded the world’s biggest sporting bonanza. On 1 May a prominent group of PEN authors including Edward Albee, Ma Jian, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie delivered a petition to the Chinese Mission to the UN, signed by over 3,000 writers and supporters, calling for the release of all writers and journalists imprisoned in China for exercising their right to freedom of expression. On 8 July, the American, Canadian, and Independent Chinese PEN Centres issued a joint report, Failing to Deliver: An Olympic-Year Report Card on Free Expression in China, which claimed that the climate for freedom of expression in China had significantly deteriorated over the previous few months; not only were there more imprisoned writers and journalists than at the beginning of 2008, but those who remained free found that their movements and ability to speak and publish had become even more severely restricted.
The arrest of writer Du Daobin on 21 July 2008 bears out PEN’s pessimistic evaluation. As many as eight police officers searched his home and confiscated computers and written materials, including letters to Du’s family written during his detention more than four years ago. A well-known dissident, Du, forty-three, was previously arrested in October 2003 and convicted on 11 June 2004 of ‘inciting subversion of state power’ for 175 words in twenty-six of his articles posted on the Internet inside China and abroad. Du had apparently described the current government as illegitimate and its power as ‘dictatorial, violent, cruel, unfair and corrupt’, and claimed that because the authorities have ‘lost the qualification to represent the side of justice’, subversion against the government could not be considered illegal.
He received a three-year sentence with an additional four years’ probation and two years’ deprivation of political rights. He had served almost eight months of his sentence before being released conditionally in June 2005.
Except for a list of confiscated items, the police have not presented any official documents for Du’s recent arrest, but claim that he is to serve the remaining two years and four months of his sentence. He is reportedly accused of violating the terms of his probation by publishing more than 100 articles on the Internet, leaving the city, and receiving guests without permission from the police.
Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CRD) report that the police have acted in violation of Chinese law, as an application to the court is necessary in order to send an individual on probation back to prison. The police did not present any court documents when they took Du away, nor have they notified Du’s family of where he is being held or how he can be contacted.
Award-winning Tibetan writer and poet Woeser remains under house arrest in China. Her books are banned and her two blogs have been shut down. She is currently unemployed (after being dismissed from her position at the Tibet Autonomous Region Literature Association in Lhasa) and her movements are restricted. Although born in Lhasa, she was raised and educated entirely in the Chinese language, and so did not learn to write in her native Tibetan. Nevertheless, since her first book, a collection of poems entitled Xizang Zai Shang (Tibet Above), was published in 1999, Woeser has become an acclaimed and prolific writer, read by both Han (Chinese) and Tibetans. She is credited with giving artistic expression to the emotions and experiences of a people and a culture previously hidden from the mainstream. Her second book, Xizang Biji (Notes on Tibet), a collection of short stories and prose published in January 2003, was a bestseller in China, but was banned in September of the same year for revealing opinions deemed ‘harmful to the unification and solidarity of our nation’. On 8 March 2008, the writer was effectively banned from leaving China for Oslo to accept the Norwegian Authors’ Union’s Freedom of Expression Prize. Two days later, following the demonstrations in Lhasa, she was placed under house arrest in Beijing, where she currently lives.
Despite promises to the contrary, foreign journalists arrived in Beijing one week before the start of the Games to find their access to Amnesty International’s website, amongst others, blocked. At the same time, English PEN issued urgent appeals on behalf of another Tibetan writer, Dolma Kyab (featured in LR October 2006), who, it is feared, will die from the aggressive tuberculosis contracted during his pre-trial detention and exacerbated by forced labour. On 16 September 2005, Dolma Kyab was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment supposedly for espionage and ‘stealing state secrets’ related to an unpublished book, Sao dong de Ximalayasha (The Restless Himalayas), and some of his earlier writings. Dolma Kyab has been transferred a number of times and in July 2007 he was moved to a labour camp in Qinghai Province, where prisoners undergo ‘re-education through labour’. PEN and others believe that this forced labour is causing his health to deteriorate seriously; he is not receiving sufficient medical treatment, and there are fears that without urgent attention Dolma Kyab may die in detention.
Many believe that immediately after the Games is the time to press for change. Readers may like to join the worldwide appeals for an end to the harassment and censorship of writers and journalists in China. Call for the release of Du Daobin, in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory; and express serious concerns for the health of Dolma Kyab and call for his release on humanitarian grounds.
Please send appeals to:
Her Excellency Mrs Fu Ying
Embassy of the People’s Republic of China
49–51 Portland Place
London W1B 4JL
Fax: 0207 636 2981