On May 3, the Independent Chinese PEN Center, located in Hong Kong, recognized three activists who have stood up about issues in China. And all of them have been imprisoned for doing so.
The award ceremony acted as a reminder of the harsh treatment political dissidents face in China.
One of the recipients, Xu Zhiyong, is a civil rights lawyer who helped to found the New Citizens Movement, a group of civil rights activists who advocate for China’s move to a Constitutional government. He was imprisoned in January of this year for a term of four years for “disrupting public order.”
The environmentalist and writer Tan Zuoren is serving a five-year term for “inciting subversion of state power.” He brought international attention to the shoddy construction of Sichuan schools. It is because of their poor construction that so many schools collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, trapping children and teachers inside.
The third recipient, Chen Ziming, is a prominent Chinese dissident best known for his role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. He was jailed for 13 years, but after his release chose to stay in China to continue speaking out for the rights of Chinese. He has been in the U.S. since January receiving cancer treatment.
Attendants at the award ceremony used the opportunity to comment on the state of the media in Hong Kong. Journalist Cheng Xiang noted that while Hong Kong used to enjoy freedom of speech, recently media have been afraid to speak out. “Freedom of expression,” he said, “have recently become sensitive words.”
The deputy director of the PEN center, Xin Yu, added, “Freedom for Hong Kong media is becoming narrower, but I think many journalists in Hong King are still doing what they can to defend freedom of expression. They are the hope of Hong Kong.”
The Independent Chinese PEN Center is a part of PEN International, located in London. All PEN centers act as a voice for writers who are imprisoned or harassed for speaking their mind.