Saunders, Atwood and Adichie make plea for poet's freedom

Saunders, Atwood and Adichie make plea for poet's freedom

More than 50 prominent authors, including Man Booker Prize winner George Saunders, have signed a letter to President Xi Jinping calling for the release of Liu Xia, widow of Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo.

The open letter, organised by PEN America, was signed by 52 writers in total, among which are also literary heavyweights Margaret Atwood, Chimamanda Adichie, Philip Roth, Paul Auster, John Coetzee, Elif Shafak, Tom Stoppard and Anne Tyler.

It expresses "concern" for the continued detention of poet Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest for the past seven years without charge, and asks China's President to give her back her freedom of movement. 

The plea on her behalf objects to her "de facto incommunicado detention" and follows the death in July of her husband, literary critic Liu Xiaobo, 61, who had been serving an 11-year sentence in Jinzhou prison in northeast China for "inciting subversion of state power" in 2009. 

"Although Chinese officials claim that she is free, the circumstances make it clear that she remains in a state of de facto incommunicado detention, cut off from the outside world and barred from making her own free decisions regarding whom to speak with and where to travel," reads the letter.

"The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the United States Secretary of State, and the German Embassy to the PRC, among others, have expressed their hope that you will lift all remaining restrictions and ensure Liu Xia’s freedom of movement. As writers, journalists, and free expression advocates, we add our voices to theirs."

After invoking The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and China's own Constitution, emphasising China's legal obligations to uphold her human rights, the letter continues to appeal to President Xi Jinping's "sense of compassion", particularly in light of Liu Xia's poor health and recent bereavement:

"We also appeal to your conscience and your sense of compassion. Liu Xia has undergone great suffering for many years, simply for being the wife of a man that China has deemed to be a dissident. She has committed no crime, and she has not been charged with any crime. She is in poor health, she is isolated from those who care for her, and she is grieving deeply for the loss of her husband. She should be free to meet freely with family, friends, and members of the international community, free to travel where she wishes, and free to be reunited with the outside world.

"In recognition of all this, Your Excellency, we urge you to lift all remaining restrictions against Liu Xia, and to ensure her freedom of speech, her freedom to meet with others, and her freedom to travel."

PEN America has said it hopes Donald Trump will push for Liu Xia's release when he visits China next week on 8th November.

“While Chinese officials claim she is free, it is crystal clear that Liu Xia remains captive by Chinese authorities, kept away from family, friends, and supporters, and suffering from declining health,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America.

“On his upcoming visit to Beijing, we hope President Trump will voice the United States’ concern about the inhumane and unjustifiable detention of a poet who has been accused of no crime. Liu Xia lost her husband when he contracted cancer in prison and faced limited treatment opportunities. Her continued torment is a singularly cruel manifestation of China’s determination to suppress not only dissenters, but someone whose only crime was to love one.”