September 18, 2015
His Excellency Mr Xi Jinping
President of the People’s Republic of China
The People’s Republic of China
As you undertake your first state visit to the United States, we the undersigned, as journalists, writers, and free expression advocates affiliated with PEN American Center, a leading cultural organization, write to express our deepest concern about the deteriorating state of free expression in China.
We are particularly concerned about the plight of our colleagues, many of whom face severe consequences for exercising their right to express their opinions and pursue their creativity. We have documented cases of at least 47 writers and journalists currently imprisoned in China. The average sentence for a writer is eight years in prison, and some sentences are even harsher. Ilham Tohti, a Uighur scholar and blogger, was sentenced on September 23, 2014 to life in prison for voicing his views online about the treatment of Uighurs.
Earlier this year, Gao Yu, an investigative journalist, was sentenced to seven years in prison. Ms. Gao, 71 years old, remains in ill health in prison, and is not receiving the medical care she needs. We urge China to adhere to international covenants to which it is a signatory that require state authorities to refrain from denying or limiting equal access to healthcare for all persons, including prisoners and detainees.
As you know, former Independent Chinese PEN Center president Liu Xiaobo, a literary critic, writer, professor, and human rights activist, was sentenced to an 11-year prison term and two years’ deprivation of political rights on December 25, 2009 for calling for political reforms. His wife, Liu Xia, who is a painter, poet, and photographer, has been under house arrest for nearly five years even though she has not been accused of a crime; your government has not even acknowledged her detention.
These four cases and countless others highlight the harsh punishments faced by writers who voice views that the government finds objectionable. The imprisonment of writers and journalists damages China’s image abroad and undercuts its ambition to be a strong and respected partner on the world stage. So too does broad official censorship of literature, the news media, and the internet and telecommunications technologies, as it prevents Chinese citizens from accessing accurate news and information that is in the public interest, and stifles the creativity and diversity of viewpoints that are essential to building a dynamic and competitive economy and culture.
To that end, Mr. President, we urge you to release the Chinese writers and journalists who are languishing in jail for the crime of expressing their opinions, and to take immediate steps to defend and protect the rights of all Chinese citizens to communicate and access information freely.