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China Stops 20 Writers From Attending Forum in Hong Kong

Posted by Author on February 7, 2007

Independent Online, South Africa, 5 Feb 2007-

Hong Kong – China has barred or warned more than 20 Chinese writers from attending a regional writers conference in Hong Kong, underscoring a tightening of creative freedoms over the past year, organisers said on Monday.

The International PEN, which champions writers’ freedoms in 101 countries, said Chinese authorities had deliberately prevented a number of Chinese writers, including those with banned works, from attending the February 2-5 conference.

“Some of the writers were denied visas, some were visited and warned not to come. Some were… turned back at the border,” said Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, the International Secretary of PEN.

Respected author Zhang Yihe, whose book on long dead Peking Opera stars was pulled from shelves last month, was warned not to come to the event, the first such PEN conference attempted on Chinese soil.

“I don’t know if there’s a clear barometer where you can say it’s this way or that,” said Leedom-Ackerman. “But lately we have seen a tightening.”

She said a relaxation of reporting rules for foreign journalists in the run-up to the Beijing 2008 Olympics, however, was a positive development.

The banning of books, magazines and newspapers has long been common in one-party China. The constitution promises freedom of expression, but in practice the Communist Party exercises iron control.

“We are very concerned by the restrictions on the writers in mainland China to write, travel and associate freely,” said PEN president Jiri Grusa in a statement.

Only 15 Chinese writers, less than half the country’s total invitees, attended the Hong Kong event, including former jailed Chinese journalist Gao Yu, who travelled down from Beijing.

“Within China, a sudden cold front has arrived into the political climate,” Gao said, referring to the recent banning of eight books, including Zhang’s, and the closure of Freezing Point, a progressive weekly magazine.

PEN says there are currently 33 writers imprisoned in China, while Reporters Without Borders said in its 2007 Freedom of the Press report, that the recent jailing of Hong Kong resident journalist Ching Cheong had “worsened apprehension” felt by Hong Kong reporters covering China”.

original report from  Independent Online

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