PEN America, the New York–based literary nonprofit and human rights organization, is calling for the release of Yang Licai after the Chinese artist was detained by authorities in Shenzhen on December 11, allegedly due to his online support of the Hong Kong protestors who have roiled the city since June and sparked many violent skirmishes with police. Yang, whose computers were seized after police raided his home, now faces up to five years in prison for inciting disruption—a charge leveled at several artists since the unrest began seven months ago over a now-shelved extradition bill.
While the violence of the Hong Kong protests has decelerated in recent weeks, Christmas Eve saw a spike in violent activity when police deployed tear gas at thousands of protestors following spontaneous rallies staged in shopping malls and tourist centers. To send a message that they will not soften their stance in 2020, pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong orchestrated a demonstration of tens of thousands on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
“The arrest of Yang Licai is an assault on free speech and artistic freedom,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection at PEN America. “It’s part of an alarming crackdown against Chinese activists and artists involved in pro-democracy protests. PEN America calls for his immediate release, and for the Chinese authorities to allow his and other critical voices to be heard.” Yang, whose art often examines China’s power structures, was also detained in 2015 after protesting the government-sanctioned demolition of artists’ homes and studios in Beijing. Ai Weiwei also voiced his support for the artist on social media.