China: Immediately release blogger and human rights activist Liu Yanli

Liu Yanli © PEN International

PEN International protests the four-year sentence pronounced on 31 January 2019 by the Dongbao District Court against blogger and human rights activist Liu Yanli, who has been convicted for her social media posts criticising China’s leadership. The sentence is in breach of Liu Yanli’s right to freedom of expression guaranteed both under the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China and under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory. PEN International is calling for Liu Yanli’s immediate and unconditional release.


Please send appeals:

  • Calling on the authorities of the People’s Republic of China to release Liu Yanli immediately and unconditionally.
  • Appealing to the authorities of the People’s Republic of China to end the persecution of writers, journalists, human rights defenders and other dissident voices, and to immediately release all those held in prison for having exercised their rights to freedom of opinion and expression.

Send appeals to:


President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping Zhongnanhai Xichangan’jie Xichengqu, Beijing Shi 100017 People’s Republic of China

Email: english [at] [dot] cn

Minister of Justice

Mr. TANG Yijun

Minister of Justice Ministry of Justice No.10 Nandajie, Chaoyangmen, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100020

People’s Republic of China

Please send copies to the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here: ‘.((strlen(‘’)>40) ? substr(‘’,0,40).’…’ : ‘’).’

Also consider calling on your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic representatives in China to raise Liu Yanli’s case in bilateral and multilateral fora.

Please inform PEN International of any action you take and of any responses you receive.

**** Please contact us if you are considering taking action after 30 June 2020 ****


PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Liu Yanli and freedom of expression in China;
  • Share information about Liu Yanli and your campaigning activities via social media.

Please inform PEN International of any action you take and of any responses you receive.


Liu Yanli, aged 44, is a blogger and internet activist who has suffered harassment and arrest on numerous occasions for her social media posts criticising the Chinese authorities. She is a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre.

On 22 April 2020, Liu was served a four-year sentence by the Dongbao District Court in the city of Jingmen in China’s Hubei Province. She was charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of the People’s Republic of China for ”picking quarrels” in her social media posts by criticising past and current Chinese leaders, commentary on corruption and lack of transparency, demanding protection for military veterans, and calling for democratic reform. In its verdict, the court referred to 28 articles and social media postings by Liu Yanli that purportedly contained “false information about major domestic events”, “insulted and attacked leaders of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese State”, “maliciously sensationalised popular social events”, and “created disturbances that damaged public order”.

Liu Yanli was first arrested on 26 September 2016, held for eight months, then released on bail on 27 May 2017. She resumed her critical social media posting which, on 25 May 2018, earned her a six-month period of ‘residential surveillance’. This is a form of secret detention often used against activists where they are held without access to family or lawyer, sometimes for months.

On 22 November 2018 Liu was arrested again, and once more accused of “insult and attacking the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)” and sentenced fifteen months later. In her final statement before the court on 22 April 2020, Liu stated that she was simply expressing her right to freedom of expression. This right, more often than not ignored by Chinese courts, is guaranteed under Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution which states: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration”. “I’m just an ordinary citizen, I’m not a party member. I use common sense to express my opinions, but now I’m facing a guilty verdict, I don’t think this is in line with the party’s slogan ‘serve the people’,she told the court. Liu is appealing against the sentence. She remains in Jinmen City Detention Centre pending the appeal.

Employed as a bank clerk, Liu Yanli has been an active human rights defender for several years, having campaigned on projects including China Human Rights Watch, led by the activist Qin Yongmin, who himself was arrested in 2015 and is now serving a 13-year sentence. She is a prolific user of social media, such as on the Chinese Qzone and WeChat social networking sites, and on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter) and her posts are said to be largely reposts and copies from other already published articles from inside and outside China.

Freedom of expression in China

PEN International has long been concerned about violations of the right to free speech in China, which consistently holds large numbers of writers in prison, many serving lengthy prison terms on convictions that breach international standards that safeguard the rights to freedom of expression and fair trial. PEN International’s 2019 Case List records twenty-one writers in prison in China, including in the Tibet and Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous regions, nearly all held under national security legislation. Among them are writers detained in the crackdown against Uyghur Muslims that commenced in 2017 and where over a million people have reportedly been held in ‘re-education camps’. Furthermore, PEN International is recently also concerned about the situation for freedom of expression in Hong Kong, which threatens to worsen with the proposed new national security legislation.