On Monday, outspoken Chinese poet Liao Yiwu had barely boarded his flight from Chengdu to Cologne when he was ordered to get off. Liao was planning to attend a literary festival in the German city, but was instead detained and questioned for three hours and then sent home, where he remains under house arrest. The writer himself claims this is the thirteenth time he has been stopped from leaving China.
According to The Telegraph, Chengdu’s public security bureau gave no comment on Liao and instead referred questions to the foreign affairs office of the city government, which was apparently not immediately familiar with the happenings.
The PEN American Center, an organisation defending worldwide free expression, spoke out against the episode. Larry Siems, from PEN’s international programmes, said,
We call on President Hu Jintao to end all restrictions on Liao Yiwu and all other writers and permit them to exercise their right to freedom of expression, movement, and association as guaranteed by international law.
In an email to PEN, Liao said, “words cannot express my outrage.” Upon arriving home, Liao also wrote an open letter to his German readers, in which he said:
Writers like me from the bottom of society still have to write, record, and broadcast [our stories], even to the dismay of the Communist Party of China. I have the responsibility to make you understand that the life of the Chinese spirit is longer than the totalitarian government.
Liao rose to prominence in China following the recording of his poem, Massacre, based on the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations. In 1990, he was jailed for four years. His piece marking the 20th anniversary of the protests, Nineteen Days, features how he spent every 4th June between 1989 and 2009 (mostly being asked by the authorities to remain ‘low-key’). He also interviewed survivors of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in a bid to expose official corruption, as recorded in his Chronicles of the Big Earthquake, published in Hong Kong last year.
Monday’s events cap a sequence of China’s increasingly hard line policy of dealing with dissidents. On Christmas Day 2009, Charter 08 author Liu Xiaobo was handed an 11 year sentence, and in February, Tan Zuoren was sentenced to 5 years for attempting to publish details of poorly constructed buildings that succumbed to the Sichuan earthquake.