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PEN America demands the immediate release of Chinese artist Yang Licai, who has been detained by authorities in China for his alleged online support of the Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests.
Yang was arrested in the city of Shenzhen in southeastern China on December 11 on charges of inciting disruption. According to PEN America, the artist could face up to five years in prison. Police also raided Yang’s home and seized his computers, according to the group Chinese Human Rights Defenders.
This is not Yang’s first brush with Chinese authorities. In 2010, he was detained while protesting the government’s demolition of artists’ homes and studios in Beijing. Acclaimed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who was active in the protests, posted a tweet last month in support of Yang. Ai’s tweet shows a defiant Yang raising a middle finger.
According to PEN America, Yang has also been persecuted in the past for signing “Charter 08“, a pro-democracy manifesto penned by Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo in 2008 and signed by thousands of Chinese citizens. (In 2009, Liu was sentenced for 11 years in jail for subversion).
“The arrest of Yang Licai is an assault on free speech and artistic freedom,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America, in a statement on December 31. “It’s part of an alarming crackdown against Chinese activists and artists involved in pro-democracy protests, who bravely stand up for human rights on a daily basis in the streets of Hong Kong and mainland China.”