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A Poem May Get a Writer Jailed In China

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Chinese writer and activist Zhu Yufu was charged with publishing a provocative poem this past week (the official charge was "inciting subversion of state power"). Zhu's poem is entitled "It's Time," and here it is in translation:

It's time
It's time, Chinese people!
It's time,
The square is ours,
The feet are ours,
It's time to use our feet to go to
the square and make a choice.

The charge comes a year after Zhu was arrested as part of a crackdown against the so-called Jasmine Revolution, a protest movement inspired by the Arab Spring (Zhu's lawyer asserts that Zhu's poem was not connected to the movement). The movement called on people to take "strolls" at certain points in the major Chinese cities, in the hopes that avoiding obvious signs of protest would protect them from arrest.

This is the third time Zhu, who is 58 years old, has faced jail time. He was previously locked up for seven years after a 1999 conviction for helping to start the "Opposition Party" magazine, and for two years in 2007 after pushing a police officer during an arrest.

Zhu's advocates doubt that authorities will go any easier on him this time. Sarah Schafer, an expert on China for Amnesty International, told the AFP, "We are not optimistic that Zhu Yufu will get off easily. We hope that the court realizes this man has not committed a crime and therefore should be released." Zhu's lawyer is similarly pessimistic. He told the press that while he will defend Zhu's freedom of expression, his chances of success are "very slim." He added, "You can't be optimistic about anything in China. In this country, he'll be punished harshly."

Zhu is a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC), part of the PEN American Center, a group that fights for freedom of expression worldwide. The group, which has closely followed the plight of Chinese writers in recent years, notes that Zhu is just the latest in a series of high-profile Chinese dissident writers to be targeted. The most notable, of course, is Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner sentenced to eleven years in prison in 2009 (I've previously written about Liu and his poetry here).

And just last week, Yu Jie, the former vice president of the ICPC, fled with his family to the United States. In a press conference on Wednesday, he talked about the years of harassment he endured in China, and detailed how he was tortured the day before Liu's Nobel Prize ceremony. During the press conference, Yu quoted a passage from Macbeth,

I think our country sinks beneath the yoke;
It weeps, it bleeds, and each new day a gash
Is added to her wounds.

He added, "I worry and suffer about this," as does Zhu, and as do many others. You can learn more about their plight at PEN's website.