Tue, Feb 06, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Beijing tells writers to stay away from Hong Kong summit


China either banned or warned more than 20 Chinese writers from attending an international writers' conference held in Hong Kong over the weekend, organizers said yesterday.

"We are very concerned by the restrictions on the writers in mainland China to write, travel and associate freely," said Jiri Grusa, president of International PEN, which organized the event.

Fifteen Chinese writers attended the conference in Hong Kong but more than 20 didn't, PEN said.

Half the writers who did not go could not obtain travel documents, while the others decided not to come after being warned, said Zhang Yu (張裕), general secretary of the Independent Chinese Pen Center.

Writers Zan Aizong (昝愛宗) and Zhao Dagong (趙達功) had travel papers but were blocked from leaving mainland China and author Qin Geng's travel documents were confiscated, PEN said.

The travel restrictions came after China's recent ban of eight books -- mostly on history, including one about the SARS outbreak in 2003, PEN said.

Zhang Yihe (章詒和), who wrote a memoir on an anti-rightist campaign in China that was among the eight banned books, decided not to attend the conference after being warned.

Calls to Chinese police headquarters in Beijing seeking comment went unanswered.

Gao Yu (高玉), a journalist banned from working in China who spoke at yesterday's news conference, said Chinese writers are facing a "cold front."

She was optimistic, however, that restrictions on freedom of speech will ease as economic growth continues.

Grusa said International PEN wants to organize another conference in a year that all Chinese writers can attend to discuss the China situation, although he acknowledged he wasn't sure if it could happen.

"I don't know how to do it, but we will try, because it's very important to have this communication," Grusa said.

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