NPR, April 30, 2008
All Things Considered interviews Larry Siems, Director of the Pen American Center about Chinese writer, Yang Tongyan, who won the Pen/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. Mr. Tongyan is currently serving a 12 year sentence in a Chinese prison for publishing anti-government articles on the Internet. Larry Siems, director of the PEN American Center, explains why Yang is being honored with the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.
The award, which honors international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression, will be presented at PEN’s Annual Gala on April 28, 2008 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Distinguished writer, historian, and PEN Trustee Barbara Goldsmith underwrites the award.
Unfortunately, I was not able to locate any works by Mr. Tongyan in translation anywhere, which I find a serious flaw in the Pen American's Center's public relations. I think it is important to read these works as well as advocate for freedom of expression.
The following account is from a press release by the Pen American Center.
Yang Tongyan is a dissident writer and member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC). He is known for his critical writings published on web sites such as Boxun.com and EpochTimes.com. His online publications include poems, essays, novels, short stories and memos, many of which were written while in prison.
On December 23, 2005, Yang was detained without a warrant in Nanjing and held incommunicado at Dantu District Detention Centre in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu Province. His family was not notified of his arrest or whereabouts until January 27, 2006, when they received formal notification dated January 20 from the Public Security Bureau of Zhenjiang City, east of Nanjing. He was convicted of subversion of state power for posting anti-government articles on the Internet, organizing a branch of the (outlawed) China Democracy Party, participating in China’s Velvet Action Movement and being elected as a member of its “Interim Government of Democratic China,” and accepting illegal funds from overseas to transfer to jailed political dissidents and their families. On May 16, 2006, after a three-hour trial that was closed to the public, he was sentenced by the Zhenjiang Intermediate Court in eastern China’s Jiangsu province to 12 years’ imprisonment and four years’ deprivation of political rights.
Yang Tongyan is currently being held in Nanjing Prison in Nanjing City, Jiangsu Province, where his diabetes and arthritis are reportedly worsening. He has submitted a petition to challenge the court verdict in what is his third stint in prison. Yang was jailed for a decade from 1990 to 2000 on “counter-revolution” charges for his involvement in the 1989 pro-democracy protests. He was also held incommunicado on suspicion of inciting subversion of state power from December 24, 2004 to January 25, 2005.
Yang Tongyan is one of nearly 200 members of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. ICPC was established in 2001 by leading dissident writers inside China and in diaspora. It has become an important voice for freedom of expression in China, and as a result, its members have come under increased pressure from Chinese authorities. In December 2007, Chinese police detained two writers and issued warnings and posted guards outside the homes of dozens of others to prevent ICPC from holding an informal awards dinner in Beijing. Authorities forced the hotel where the event was to take place to cancel the event and warned all invitees and dozens of their colleagues and supporters throughout the country against appearing for the dinner. Police guarded the homes of key members of the PEN Center and detained the two awardees through the weekend, telling one of them that actions were part of a concerted effort to rein in dissent in advance of the Summer Olympics in Beijing.
PEN has invited Yang’s lawyer, Li Jianqiang, to travel from Beijing to accept the award on his behalf. Li, an ICPC member himself, has represented at least eight of the 38 writers and journalists PEN believes are imprisoned in violation of their right to freedom of expression in China. He had his license to practice law revoked last year for his efforts.
In announcing the award today in New York, Freedom to Write Program Director Larry Siems praised the unflagging courage of this year’s PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award recipient and paid tribute to the other jailed members of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. “Yang Tongyan is in prison for the third time since 1990 for refusing to bow to official censorship and for insisting on his universally-guaranteed right to criticize government policies. China has declared its interest in improving its human rights record, but imprisoning Yang on subversion charges after a hasty, closed trial hardly looks like progress. Like our four other colleagues from the Independent Chinese PEN Center who are also currently in prison, Mr. Yang has defended the freedom of expression at enormous cost, embodying the highest ideals of PEN. We are proud to call him our colleague, and extremely honored to present him with this year’s PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.”
Noting that Yang Tongyan is one of 38 writers and journalists PEN believes are being held in Chinese prisons in violation of their right to freedom of expression, Siems renewed PEN’s calls for their immediate and unconditional release. “In December, 2007 PEN American Center joined the Independent Chinese PEN Center in launching the We Are Ready for Freedom of Expression campaign, a coordinated, international effort to win the release of all jailed writers and journalists in China before the Olympic Games open in Beijing in August. As Salman Rushdie said when we launched the campaign, ‘It’s really very simple. It will be an embarrassment for China if even one of our colleagues is still in prison when the Games begin. There’s only one good number: zero.’”
This is the 22nd year that the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards have honored international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression. Candidates are nominated by International PEN and any of its 145 constituent PEN centers around the world, and screened by PEN American Center and an Advisory Board comprising some of the most distinguished experts in the field. The Advisory Board for the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards includes Carroll Bogert, Associate Director of Human Rights Watch; Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation; Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, International Vice-President of International PEN; Aryeh Neier, President of the Open Society Institute; and Joel Simon, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The PEN Barbara Goldsmith Award is an extension of PEN’s year-round advocacy on behalf of the more than 1,009 writers and journalists who are currently threatened or in prison. Thirty-nine women and men have received the award since 1987; 28 of the 31 honorees who were in prison at the time they were honored were subsequently released.