120 writers including Rushdie ask China’s Xi to stop human rights ‘crackdown’

The Hindustan Times, 12 December 2016


By Sutirtho Patranobis — A group of 120 authors including Salman Rushdie and JM Coetzee have written to President Xi Jinping on Saturday, marked as Human Rights Day, urging him to reverse China’s ongoing crackdown on writers, academics and dissident voices.

During Xi’s four years in power since 2012, the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) has hardened its stand against voices perceived to be critical, throwing to jail many activists, lawyers and academics.

There is hardly any room for dissenting voices in China, and its vibrant online community – the largest in the world at nearly 700 million – is under multiple layers of censorship.

Besides the CPC, China’s top leadership and their policies continue to be among taboo topics for discussion in the second largest economy of the world. Newspapers and television channels are strictly controlled too.

In an open letter from Pen International, a freedom of speech group, the authors urged Xi to end the “worsening crackdown”.

“On World Human Rights Day, our PEN International community of writers, readers, activists and publishers condemn the Chinese authority’s sustained and increasing attack on free expression and call for an immediate end to China’s worsening crackdown on fundamental human rights,” the letter said.

“Where is the voice of publisher Gui Minhai, who disappeared from his holiday home in Thailand and is now being held incommunicado? Where is the voice of Nobel Peace Laureate and former president of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, Liu Xiaobo serving an 11-year prison sentence and the voice of his wife, the poet Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest for over six years without even having been accused of a crime?,” it asked.

“Where is the voice of Ilham Tohti, Uyghur scholar and PEN member, currently serving a life sentence, when his life’s work has been about creating peace and dialogue in China? Where is the voice of veteran journalist Gao Yu, who spent close to two years in prison and is now under house arrest?”

The authors said the “rest of the world can only be enriched by these opinions and voices”.

“We therefore urge the Chinese authorities to release the writers, journalists, and activists who are languishing in jail or kept under house arrest for the crime of speaking freely and expressing their opinions,” they said in the letter.

This is not the first time that noted authors have written to the Chinese government about human rights.

Rushdie was among those who wrote earlier about Tohti after he was arrested.