CHINA: Mounting concerns for detained publisher Yao Wentian amidst renewed crackdown on dissent.

28 January 2014 – RAN 02/14

PEN International is seriously concerned about the ongoing detention of Hong-based publisher Yao Wentian, who has been held in Shenzhen since 27 October 2013. Yao is detained on the charge of ‘smuggling prohibited items’, although at the time of his arrest he was preparing to publish a book by US-based dissident writer Yu Jie, entitled Chinese Godfather Xi Jinping. Yao suffers from asthma and a heart complaint and has been transferred to the medical facility of Shenzhen Public Security Bureau. There are mounting concerns for his health.

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  • Expressing serious concern for the arrest and health of publisher Yao Wentian, and calling for his immediate and unconditional release if, as feared, he is held for his professional activities on politically-motivated criminal charges;
  • Protesting the renewed crackdown on government critics, and reminding President Xi of his commitment to tackle official corruption;
  • Reminding the Chinese authorities that Article 35 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China provides for freedom of speech and that as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides for freedom of legitimate expression, the right not to be arbitrarily detained and the right to a fair trial, they are obliged to “refrain from acts that would defeat or undermine the treaty’s objective and purpose”.

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His Excellency Xi Jinping
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According to PEN International’s information, Yao Wentian was arrested on 27 October 2013 at a friend’s house in Shenzhen whilst delivering industrial paint. The paint in question is legal, although an import duty is required for industrial usage, of which Yao was reportedly unaware. He was initially accused of ‘carrying prohibited items’, later changed to the more serious charge of ‘smuggling ordinary goods/ items’, which according to his lawyer carries a sentence of at least seven years’ imprisonment. PEN International believes that this is very likely to be a politically-motivated charge and that his arrest and detention are connected to his professional activities as a publisher, in particular his collaboration with dissident writer Yu Jie. According to his son, when his father was arrested, one of the customs officials told him, “We finally got you; you’re a big fish.” His son also reports that Yao had previously been harassed for his collaboration with Yu, notably for his role in the publication of Hu Jintao: Harmony King, a critique of the former president’s concept of “harmonious society”. In September 2012, Yao reportedly wrote to Google complaining that his Gmail account had been hacked while he was preparing to print the book.

Yao was initially taken to a detention centre in Guangzhou but was quickly hospitalised following a deterioration of his health. On 12 November, he was formally arrested under an order of the prosecution and transferred to the No. 2 Detention Centre of Shenzhen City, where he has since been held at the prison medical facility. His lawyer submitted an application for medical parole in December 2013, which has been rejected.

Yao Wentian, aged 73, is publisher and former chief editor of the Hong Kong-based Morning Bell Press. Since 2007 he has worked closely with dissident writers, including many members of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC), to publish books which have been banned in mainland China. His publications include the Collected Literary Works of Chinese Writers in Prison and an ICPC Membership Literature Series, of which more than a dozen volumes have been published. More of his publications can be found here ‘.((strlen(‘’)>40) ? substr(‘’,0,40).’…’ : ‘’).’‘.Yao’s arrestcomes amidst a reported crackdown by mainland censors on Hong Kong and Taiwanese works deemed “vulgar” or “politically harmful”.

Several activists are currently on trial for their involvement with the New Citizens’ Movement, a grassroots network of activists in China. They include Zhao Changqing, a Beijing-based freelance writer and political essayist, who is facing charges of disrupting social order. Zhao has been previously detained twice for his dissident activities and writings, and has served a total of eight years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” since 1998.  He is a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre. Zhao, aged 45, is married with a 20-month-old son and his detention is placing huge economic and emotional strain on the family.

The movement’s leader Xu Zhiyong was arrested in July 2013 and sentenced to 4 years imprisonment on 26 January 2014 on charges of  ‘gathering crowds to disrupt public order’ after a four-day trial. He is known for his campaigning against official corruption and in support of children’s rights, and he is widely believed to be targeted because of his growing presence on Chinese social media platforms. Xu is an honorary member of ICPC.