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Writer prevented from travelling to German book festival, under house arrest

(PEN American Center/IFEX) - New York City, March 1, 2010 - PEN American Center today expressed outrage that writer Liao Yiwu was removed from a plane he had boarded in Chengdu, southwestern China, to travel to a literature festival in Cologne, Germany, and placed under house arrest.

Liao, a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC) and the author of the internationally-acclaimed work "The Corpse Walker: Real-Life Stories, China from the Bottom Up", had been invited to participate in the Festival "lit Cologne", and he had a passport and visa in hand when he was ordered off the plane this morning. He had been warned in recent days not to attend the Festival, but insisted on exercising his right to travel freely. He was held at a detention center and questioned by police for three hours before he was permitted to go home. He is now under house arrest.

"Words alone cannot express my outrage," Liao Yiwu said in an email to PEN American Center. "I'm a writer and never considered myself a political dissident. But Liu Xiaobo was right when he said, 'To gain and preserve your freedom and dignity, there is no other way except to fight.'"

This is not the first time Liao was prevented from associating with his fellow writers. In December 2007, he had planned to travel to Beijing to accept the ICPC's annual Freedom to Write Award. Instead, he was detained in Beijing, questioned about his activities and escorted back to Chengdu. The awards dinner was canceled after dozens of other PEN members were detained, questioned, or harassed by authorities. ICPC and its members remain under threat.

The Chinese government also prevented Liao from traveling to Germany in September 2009 to attend an event in Berlin that was connected to the Frankfurt Book Festival.

"It is hard to figure what the Chinese government hopes to accomplish by preventing one of its most compelling literary voices from meeting with international colleagues and readers," said Larry Siems, Director of the Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. "PEN believes firmly that the free exchange of writers and literature is one of the greatest ways of promoting mutual understanding across cultures. We call on President Hu Jintao to end all restrictions on Liao Yiwu and all other writers and permit them to exercise their right to freedom of expression, movement, and association as guaranteed by international law."

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