Facing Censorship and Abuse, a Chinese Writer Chooses Exile

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Ng Han Guan / AP

In this Aug. 4, 2010 file photo, Chinese writer Yu Jie adjusts his glasses during an interview in Beijing.

A Chinese writer who was kept under house arrest for much of the past year and claims he was tortured by police has left China for the United States, saying that he faced unbearable pressure at home. Yu Jie, 38, is known for his 2010 book China’s Greatest Actor: Wen Jiabao, a scathing criticism of China’s premier and his man-of-the-people image. But it was only in the fall of that year, after his friend and fellow author Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, that Yu ran into serious problems with the authorities in Beijing. At that point “my situation deteriorated rapidly,” he told Radio Free Asia this week. “I was subjected to torture.”

Yu had been racing to finish a book about Liu ahead of the Nobel Prize ceremony in December 2010 when he was put under house arrest. “They won’t let us take half a step outside,” he said at the time. “Even prisoners have time to get fresh air.” When I attempted to visit him at his home in a housing complex on the east side of Beijing called Spring’s Vitality, I saw three men checking everyone who entered his building. Several more plainclothed toughs emerged as I approached the building, and escorted me out. When I asked them for identification, one responded, “You don’t need to know who I am.”

Yu told RFA that he had been under surveillance for much of the past year and that he felt his religious freedom had been constrained. “I felt that, as a writer and as a Christian, I no longer had any freedom to express myself and to practice my religion. So I chose to come to the United States, where I can live freely,” he said. Yu arrived in Washington with his wife and child Wednesday night on a flight from Beijing. He told the Wall Street Journal that he had only been allowed to leave China several round of negotiations with security officials who told him he wouldn’t be allowed back if he “did anything they didn’t like.”

Last year another Chinese writer, Liao Yiwu, left the country, saying that he was facing pressure ahead of the publication of a German edition of a memoir about his time in prison following the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations and another book about Christianity in China. He slipped across a small border crossing and fled to Germany last July. “I had to leave China,” Liao said. “If I didn’t, my books couldn’t be published.”

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