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PEN International joins PEN Centres worldwide in call for release of Chinese writer and journalist Dong Yuyu

May 30, 2023 IN WIP
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We, the undersigned PEN Centres, are deeply concerned with the detention of Chinese writer and journalist Dong Yuyu on charges of “espionage”. We call for the charges against him to be dropped and for Dong to be released.

Police initially detained Dong Yuyu on 21 February 2022 at a hotel in Beijing while he was having lunch with a Japanese diplomat, who was also briefly detained. On 23 March 2023, authorities informed Dong’s family that his case had been sent to court for trial on charges of “espionage” though no hearing date has been set and the process may take several months or longer before a trial commences.

His family have been denied contact with him for the duration of his detention and he has only been granted one meeting with his lawyer. For the first six months of his detention, he was held in “residential surveillance at a designated location,” a form of detention which United Nations human rights experts described as “tantamount to enforced disappearance”. If convicted, he faces between ten years and life imprisonment.

Dong Yuyu is a liberal commentator and deputy head of the editorial department for Guangming Daily, a state-owned newspaper, where he has worked since 1987. He was awarded a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University, United States in 2006-07 and was a visiting scholar of Japan’s Keio University in 2010 and Hokkaido University in 2014.

In 1998, he co-edited the book Political China: Facing an Era of Choices for a New System, which contained essays contributed by liberal scholars about judicial independence. In addition to his writing for Guangming Daily, which mainly covered opinion pieces on economic issues, he had written columns for The New York Times Chinese website from 2012-2014, including the essay “I want to send my son to study in the United States” which continues to circulate on Chinese media. Another essay of his, the book review “Viewing the Cultural Revolution from the Perspective of National Politics,” later led to Dong being labeled as “anti-socialist” in 2017. He reportedly wrote less after that investigation, though penned an opinion piece in 2018 criticizing local government officials that went viral.

Dong Yuyu often met with diplomats, journalists, and scholars from other countries as a part of his job to better understand global issues. He knew his communications were monitored by state security and the meetings were always held in a public location. More than 60 journalists and scholars have signed an open letter calling for his release.

The PRC government has an overbroad and vague definition of espionage, which has become broader in scope recently. On 26 April, China’s legislature voted to adopt revisions to the Counter-Espionage Law, to go into effect on 1 July, which bans the transfer of any information “related to national security and interests” without defining what that encompasses, providing authorities with discretionary powers to effectively criminalize the sharing of information overseas.

Dong’s arrest and the revision of Counter-Espionage Law are part of an effort by the PRC government to create a chilling effect that makes Chinese nationals, especially journalists and scholars in state-owned institutions, afraid to contact foreign nationals.

Dong Yuyu’s case also has similarities to Australian writer Yang Hengjun, who was put on trial on charges of espionage in May 2021 after two years in pre-trial detention. PEN Centres have also been calling for Yang’s immediate and unconditional release.

We believe that Dong Yuyu is being unjustly detained in reprisal for his writing and interacting with foreign nationals to help inform his global views, in violation of his right to freedom of expression enshrined under China’s Constitution and international human rights law. We call on authorities to unconditionally drop the charges against him and release him immediately.

This statement has been signed by:

  • PEN International

  • Independent Chinese PEN Center

  • PEN America

  • Vietnamese Abroad PEN Centre

  • PEN Esperanto

  • Croatian PEN

  • PEN Romania

  • Pen Tibetan Writers Abroad Centre

  • Basque PEN

  • PEN New Zealand

  • PEN Afghanistan

  • PEN Club France

  • Danish PEN

  • PEN Melbourne

  • PEN Netherlands

  • Swedish PEN

  • Estonian PEN

  • PEN Türkiye

  • PEN Eritrea

  • English PEN

  • Arman PEN

  • PEN Gambia

  • PEN Perth

  • PEN Català

  • PEN Zambia

  • Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann

  • PEN Uganda

  • PEN Argentina

  • PEN Flanders

  • PEN Canada

  • PEN Nicaragua

  • San Miguel PEN

  • Cuban Writers in Exile Centre

  • PEN Philippines

  • Pen Guadalajara

  • PEN Perú

  • PEN Brazil

  • PEN Paraguay

  • PEN Zimbabwe

  • PEN Honduras

  • PEN Guatemala

  • PEN Bangladesh

  • PEN Uruguay

  • PEN Bolivia

  • PEN Armenia

  • PEN Nigeria

  • PEN Ecuador

  • PEN South Africa

  • PEN Liechtenstein

  • PEN Africaans

  • PEN Belarus

  • PEN Malawi

  • PEN Norway

  • PEN Sierra Leone

  • PEN Kenya

  • PEN Québec

  • PEN Malta

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People say that (writers) are pretty powerless: we don’t have an army, we don’t have a bureaucracy. But if that were true, then why would writers be arrested?... Because the spoken word is powerful.

— John Ralston Saul on the work of PEN International