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Is the English PEN or the British Council endorsing the Chinese law that sentenced Liu Xiaobo to 11 years?

In a recent BBC interview, English PEN's Events Manager Sarah Hesketh, when asked why Liu Xiaobo was not invited to the London Book Fair, answered: '...Liu Xiaobo is a criminal according to the Chinese law, so the British Council couldn't invite Liu Xiaobo.'!

I am wondering if the English PEN or the British Council is endorsing the Chinese law that sentenced Liu Xiaobo to 11 years? What about your mission of promoting freedom to write and read?


Liu’s conviction was based entirely on his writings, nonviolent expressions of his own opinions. Along with Charter 08, six articles written by Liu Xiaobo between October 2005 and July 2007 were cited as evidence and used to convict him. These articles include:

  • “CCP’s Dictatorial Patriotism,” in which Liu points out that the CCP government has no democratic legitimacy to represent the Chinese people, nor does its ideology, including “officially-promoted patriotism,” speak for Chinese culture;
  • “Who Said Chinese People Only Deserve Accepting ‘Party-Rule Democracy?’” In this article, Liu criticizes a white paper issued by the Information Office of the State Council, entitled “China’s Construction of Democratic Democracy,” for rejecting the universality of democratic rights;
  • “Political Reform through Social Change,” in which Liu advocates non-violent disobedience, calling on citizens to stand up against repression.
  • “Many Facets of CCP Dictatorship,” in which Liu tries to explain that widespread corruption is a symptom of the growing illegitimacy of the CCP’s dictatorial rule.
  • “Negative Impact of Rising Dictatorship on Democratization,” in which Liu criticizes President Hu Jintao’s foreign policy of “promising China’s commitment to peaceful rise;”
  • And “Follow-up Questions about the Case of Illegal Child Labor Brick Factories,” denouncing the government’s cover-up and disregard for the lives of young children.


The arrest and conviction of Liu Xiaobo have been marred by violations of Liu’s legal, constitutional, and human rights. His wife, Liu Xia, herself a poet, has been under house arrest since 10 October 2010.


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Unequivocally, English PEN does NOT endorse the law that has put Lui Xiaobo in prison.

Sarah Hesketh was asked whether Lui could have been invited to the London Book Fair. She explained that this was impossible since he is in prison.

Lui *is* considered a criminal by the Chinese government. This is an unfortunate fact, but Sarah was not incorrect to point this state of affairs. Stating this fact is not an endorsement (in any language) and we are confident that the context of her comments was clear to listeners of the programme. I draw your attention to your own transcript: "The British Council *couldn't* invite Lui Xiaobo." the emphasis is mine: "couldn't" is very different from "shouldn't" and Ms Hesketh's comments do not carry an endorsing message: Indeed, the interview in question presents precisely the opposite view. This is why I personally posted the interview to the PEN website.

English PEN's consistent public statements supporting Lui Xiaobo; our statements on Free Expression in China in general; our position on the China Market Focus at the London Book Fair; the fact Lui is an Honorary Member of English PEN; the fact we promoted a worldwide reading of his poetry only last week; and the fact we are giving voice to dissident writers at our '<a href="">China Inside Out</a>' Conference yesterday... leave no doubt whatsoever as to our position in support of Lui Xiaobo and the many other imprisoned writers in China. As a result of this stance we have refused to platform the official delegation at the book fair.

I hope that clarifies matters.

Robert Sharp
Head of Campaigns & Communications
English PEN

robertsharp 12 years ago


Thank you for clarifying English PEN's position. I have a lot of respect for what English PEN has done in support of Liu Xiaobo and other writers in prison, but I do think it was entirely unnecessary for English PEN to speak on behalf of the British Council why they 'couldn't' invite Liu Xiaobo by repeating the Chinese regime's conviction of Liu.

I also received a reply from Jonathan Heawood, Director of English PEN, confirming English PEN's mission:

"English PEN has campaigned vigorously on behalf of Liu Xiaobo. We have raised his case today at our ‘China Inside Out’ event here at the Free Word Centre. Liu Xiaobo’s unjust imprisonment is the reason why we are NOT participating in the British Council programme of events at London Book Fair – the reason why, instead, we are hosting our own, independent event, featuring several ICPC writers.

OF COURSE we are not endorsing the Chinese law that sentenced Liu to 11 years in prison.

Please trust us to understand and implement PEN’s core mission. "

Shao Jiang 12 years ago