China: Letter to Li Zhanshu Chairman of the National People´s Congress of the People´s Republic of China

His Excellency Mr. Li Zhanshu
Chairman of the National People´s Congress of the People´s Republic of China

Oslo, 13 May, 2019

Statement from Norwegian PEN in connection with official visit to Norway

Norwegian PEN welcomes your visit to Norway. Your visit reflects the fact that relations between China and Norway have entered a new and promising phase. We hope that your visit will contribute to further cooperation that will benefit both countries.

Norwegian PEN hopes that you will be able to enjoy the hospitality of the people of Norway and to experience our National Holiday on 17 May, in particular the Children’s Parade, which is the core symbolic event of that day. This even reflects our conviction that the broad participation of the young generation – from all parts of the society – is of crucial importance in order to safeguard the independence, cohesion and prosperity of our country.

However, while welcoming you to Norway, Norwegian PEN would like to express serious concern about the situation for certain peoples and individuals in your country. Norwegian PEN would, in particular, raise the current plight of the Uighur people in Xinjiang and the treatment of the Tsinghua scholar Xu Zhangrun.

Since 2008, the conditions for various peoples, social groups and individuals in China have deteriorated as a result of stricter government control and oppression. The situation for the Uighur people in Xinjiang and the treatment of Xu Zhangrun are prominent examples of this trend.

The government of the People´s Republic of China has implemented a number of measures in the Autonomous Region of Xinjiang, resulting in the internment of the Uighur population and of other minority nationalities who have traditionally inhabited the region. The inhuman measures taken are contrary to the idea of regional autonomy, and are unprecedented in the recent history of the People´s Republic of China.

As a result, it has been verified by various credible sources that at least 1 million Uighurs and others have been placed in detention camps without a fair trial, among them 386 prominent Uighur intellectuals. Some of them have died after their release as a result of the treatment they have been exposed to. As you are aware, the prominent Uighur intellectual Ilham Tohti is serving a life sentence as a result of his outspoken defense of vital Uighur interests.

Current policies, in our opinion, amount to forced assimilation of the peoples of Xinjiang. We urge you to reverse the present policies and establish genuine autonomy for the peoples of Xinjiang, to which they are entitled according to Chinese laws governing regional autonomy.

Professor of Law at Tsinghua University, Xu Zhangrun, has written a number of essays, some of which have offered constructive criticism, while others have provided honest but harsh criticism of the present policies of the Chinese Communist Party. This has resulted in a number of measures recently taken against professor Xu. He has been stripped of his academic duties, banned from teaching and tutoring, and has been put under investigation. The case of Professor Xu is a good example of a responsible intellectual raising his voice against abuse of power, a right that was granted to intellectuals throughout Chinese history.

The case of Professor Xu unfortunately illustrates a distinct trend over the last ten years, namely that legitimate scholarly and political criticism by outspoken intellectuals is silenced and their publications are banned. They experience being fired from their jobs, forced into exile or put under detention. Such punitive measures of silencing, humiliating, banning, or incarcerating legitimate voicing of opinion will in the long run damage China’s intellectual and creative development.

Unfortunately, the ongoing tightening of control over academic life also reflects a widespread repression of Chinese civil society today.

Excellency, while not intending to interfere in your internal affairs, Norwegian PEN urges you and the Chinese government to reverse these trends, to respect the rights of the Uighur population and to ensure that freedom of expression is protected.

We hope your visit to Norway and the celebration of 17th May will inspire you in this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Kjersti Løken Stavrum                                                           Harald Bøckman
President Norwegian PEN                                                 Norwegian PEN                                                                                                                      China Committee