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Liu Xiaobo

I’m interrupting the Happy Holidays to write a blog entry about Liu Xiaobo, one of China’s most prominent writers and a past president and member of the Independent Chinese PEN center. After a show trial, he’s been sentenced to eleven years in prison for co-authoring Charter O8, a petition calling for political and human rights reforms in China, and for seven sentences in five articles he published on the internet that are critical of Chinese authorities.

He was sentenced on Christmas day. Maybe the powers-that-be in China thought that the Western World would not be watching. They were mistaken.

I’m trying to imagine what it must be like for a writer who has done nothing wrong—other than to write what is in his heart and mind—to be incarcerated in a Chinese prison. But I can’t imagine it, not really. It’s a bitterly cold day as I write but I’m warm, sitting at my desk, my computer humming. Access to the internet is instantaneous and unfettered. No one is trying to shut me down. No one is trying to shut this website down. I’m not a dissident, I’m a writer. In China, almost by definition, writers are dissidents.

It’s not a pretty picture.

A few years ago, a book I complied and edited, “Another Day in Paradise; International Humanitarian Workers Tell Their Stories,” was published in China. When my agent first told me the news, I thought it was good news. But then I got worried. What if the book is censored or gets someone into trouble and they end up in jail? I asked. My agent reassured me that this would not happen. How could she know for sure? When it was suggested that I might like to travel to China to publicize the book, I refused. In fact, I won’t set foot on Chinese soil until all writers and other dissidents are released from jail. The Chinese government needs to shape up. Their actions are unconscionable.

Thursday is New Year’s Eve Day and American PEN is celebrating by organizing a vigil for Liu Xiaobo somewhere in midtown Manhattan. Snow is forecast but it makes no difference. I'll be there.

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