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.

TAKE ACTION

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

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] mail.gov [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(‘https://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/china’)>40) ? substr(‘https://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/china’,0,40).’…’ : ‘https://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/china’).’

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 ****

Publicity

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.

Background

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.

CUBA: Immediately release poet and journalist Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces

Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces © Cortesia

PEN International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of poet, lawyer and independent journalist Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces. In April 2019, he was detained while he was covering a trial for news website CubaNet. Quiñones Haces was released five days later and fined for conduct during his detention allegedly constituting ‘disobedience’ and ‘resistance’. After refusing to pay the fine, he was sentenced to a prison sentence of one year on 7 August and detained on 11 September 2019. During his imprisonment, Quiñones Haces has developed health problems due to the conditions of detention and, according to the writer’s relatives, he is particularly at risk from Covid-19.

“PEN International believes that Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces is a victim of censorship in Cuba and that his detention violates his right to freedom of expression. We are concerned for his health, and with this in mind call for him to be released without delay,” said Carles Torner, Executive Director PEN International.

TAKE ACTION

Please send appeals calling on the authorities of the Republic of Cuba to:

  • Release Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces immediately and unconditionally.
  • End the persecution of writers, journalists, human rights defenders, cultural activists, artists and other dissident voices, and immediately release all those held in prison for having exercised their rights to freedom of opinion and expression.
  • Repeal Decrees 370 and 349 that limit the right to freedom expression and information.
  • Stop judicial harassment of writers and journalists.

Send appeals to:

President

Sr. Miguel Díaz-Canel

Addres: Hidalgo, Esquina 6. Plaza de la Revolución, La Habana, CP 10400, Cuba.

Email: despacho [at] presidencia.gob [dot] cu Twitter: @DiazCanelB

Minister of Justice

Mr. Oscar Silvera Martínez

Calle O #216 entre 23 y 25. Plaza de la Revolución, La Habana, Cuba.

Email: apoblacion [at] minjus.gob [dot] cu Twitter: @CubaMinjus / Facebook: @MinisterioJusticiaCuba

Please send copies to the Embassy of the Republic of Cuba in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here: ‘.((strlen(‘https://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/cuba’)>40) ? substr(‘https://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/cuba’,0,40).’…’ : ‘https://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/cuba’).’

Also consider calling on your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic representatives in Cuba to raise Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces’ case in bilateral and multilateral fora.

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

*** Please send appeals immediately ***

Publicity

PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces and freedom of expression in Cuba;
  • Share information about Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces and your campaigning activities via social media.
  • Share his poetry (find it in Spanish and English below) on social media calling for his release.

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

The Prison

The prison is old Enrique
wasting time
as he smokes away
it is Pompi the Haitian
calling to his ancestors
while his vision, broken by prison bars,
stretches up toward the sky.
Prison is the hate in eyes
rotten food that is served
longing for ones children
a nocturnal cabal severed by blows
against the fence
and light beams that slice the night
and everyones’ despair.
No one cares about the lost eyes
of the imprisoned
hands orphaned of touch
dreams or tears
while a sliver of salt
comes to pierce the dawn.
Here, they only have a gray life
like the humanity of their judges.
If they awake dead
they’ll have an unknown vigil
like our suffering.
By Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces
Translation: Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International

Background

Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces is a 63-year-old Cuban poet, lawyer, and independent journalist. He was detained and beaten by state agents on 22 April 2019 while covering a trial for the news website CubaNet. Quiñones Haces was reportedly released five days later and fined for conduct during his detention, which they alleged, constituted ‘disobedience’ and ‘resistance.’ He was sentenced to one year in prison on 7 August 2019 after refusing to pay the fine. Although Quiñones Haces has presented evidence in favour of his case and requested a new trial, on 19 August the Court rejected both the evidence and the request for a new trial and on 11 September 2019, Quiñones was detained.

Roberto Quiñones has also written about his imprisonment conditions, which include constant humiliation, overcrowding, contaminated water and food, and a lack of proper medical attention. He has also reported being threatened because of his articles and letters.

On 12 November 2019, the writer managed to secretly send out a letter from prison in which he denounces the harassment of which he is being victim in there. On 22 November 2019, Roberto Quiñones requested revision of the sentence. He, as a lawyer, also pointed to articles of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba that had been violated including being reportedly subjected to a beating and denial of access to his family. In the letter, he states that he is being discriminated against owing to him being a “counter-revolutionary”.

On 31 March, he published in Cubanet that, although authorities in the prison had implemented some measures to deal with COVID-19, “the quality of the food is still deplorable. Despite reports of the vulnerability of older adults (prisoners over 60) to COVID-19, many of them are kept in cubicles where they live in overcrowded conditions with almost two dozen people.” According to his family, Roberto is allegedly locked up in a small cell with at least 17 other people, sharing beds and toilet facilities.

Roberto is a writer and the author of poetry books La fuga del ciervo, Escritos desde la cárcel and El agua de la vida, among others. His work has been awarded with the Internacional de Poesía Vitral award (2001), the International Poetry Award Nósside (2006) and the Sixth Patmos Award on Religious Freedom (2019). As a lawyer, Roberto was imprisoned from 1999 to 2001 for his work on Human Rights; as a consequence, he was banned from practicing law.

On April 2020, CPJ included Roberto’s case as “one of the 10 most urgent cases of journalists under attack” around the world. Roberto is part of PEN International’s 2019 Case List.

Freedom of expression in Cuba

Cuba still holds the record for having the most restricted climate for the press in the Americas, according to a CPJ report, which rated it as the 10th most censored country globally in 2019. Miguel Díaz-Canel’s government continues to repress and punish dissent and criticism and control a large part of media. From January to August 2019, there were reportedly 1,818 arbitrary detentions of independent journalists and human rights defenders and other government critics. Writers, artists and cultural activists has suffered arrests and judicial and police harassments –that illustrate the repression. In April 2019, Decree 349 entered into force, establishing restrictions on artistic expression, and requiring the prior approval of the Ministry of Culture for the provision of artistic services in public or private spaces. Although repression of freedom of expression and freedom of press has been long-standing and systematic, the current wave of repression has been intensified by the application of Legal Decree 370 “On the computerization of Cuban society,” in force since July 4, 2019. At least 30 people have been subjected to interrogation, threats, and seizure of work equipment (especially that of journalists) for broadcasting their opinions on social media.

For more information, please contact Alicia Quiñones, Americas Programme Coordinator, at PEN International, email: alicia.quinones [at] pen-international [dot] org

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