China Bars Prominent Author from Returning

Logo of the Independent Chinese PEN Center writers' group. Image: www.chinesepen.org

HONG KONG, Feb. 9, 2007—Immigration officials in Beijing have stopped author Zhang Yu from entering China, after he attended a meeting of the International PEN writers’ group in Hong Kong.

Zhang, who is also the general secretary of Chinese PEN and holds both Swedish and Chinese passports, was refused immigration clearance after he arrived in the Chinese capital on the Hong Kong-Beijing express train first thing Wednesday morning, he told RFA’s Cantonese service.

Zhang, who was traveling on his Chinese passport at the time, was ushered immediately aboard a flight for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), which still maintains separate border controls following its return to Chinese rule in 1997.

A lot of writers in mainland China were refused permission to attend the meeting, which shows that the government must have a problem with it.

“I think it’s to do with the meeting of International PEN that I attended here in Hong Kong,” Zhang told RFA’s Cantonese service.

Writers barred from attending

“A lot of writers in mainland China were refused permission to attend the meeting, which shows that the government must have a problem with it.”

International PEN legal adviser Li Jianqiang said he would report to the organization on Zhang’s case, and they would consider lodging a complaint, as it was illegal for a state to bar its own citizens from returning there.

The 14 other mainland PEN members were all allowed home, including journalist Gao Yu, who has been under close surveillance by police in recent years.

A mainland Chinese lawyer surnamed Gao also said it was illegal for states to turn away their own citizens, but that such things often happen in China on the basis of verbal orders from higher up.

Zhang said that on returning to Hong Kong, he was held in a holding area for illegal immigrants before he made another application to enter the territory and was allowed back in.

He said he would launch a complaint with the Chinese consulate in Sweden when he returned there.

'Empty chairs'

More than 20 Chinese writers were prevented from attending the Feb. 2-5 conference, organizers said Monday.

International PEN (playwrights, editors, novelists), with branches in 101 countries, described “empty chairs on the podium,” which reminded participants in the conference on freedom of expression of how far China had to go.

“Though the Chinese constitution confirms freedom of expression and communication, this protection was challenged by the government’s actions and by the recent banning of eight books, including a book by Zhang Yihe...who was scheduled to speak at the conference but was unable to attend,” the group said in a statement.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Lau Wun. RFA Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated, written and produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.