BEIJING (Reuters) - An outspoken Chinese writer, barred from leaving China to attend a literary festival next week in Australia, said he will keep applying to travel overseas despite 16 failed efforts so far.
The travel ban on Liao Yiwu, 53, whose books on the lower rungs of Chinese society are banned in China, is the latest example of a campaign to crush dissent.
It also comes as U.S. officials criticized China’s crackdown against dissidents at the start of two days of talks in Washington.
Liao told Reuters in a telephone interview that police officials in Chengdu in southwestern Sichuan province had “invited him out to tea” about a week ago and told him that he was not allowed to go to the Sydney Writers’ Festival.
“I emphasized to them that this was a literary event,” Liao said on Tuesday. “But the police still refused. They said these were orders from higher up. I will continue to stay put and wait for a loosening up, which I’ll still have to fight for. I’ll still apply to travel overseas.”
He said he had applied 17 times to travel abroad since 1999 and been successful only once when he was allowed to attend a writers’ festival in Germany last year.
The Sichuan authorities did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.
The Sydney festival organizers said they were disappointed at Liao’s travel ban.
“Our primary concern is for Liao Yiwu who has been denied the fundamental right to express his views freely,” festival artistic director Chip Rolley said in a statement. “We are astonished by the Chinese government’s additional demand that he not publish his works internationally.”
Liao was supposed to speak at a panel on the growing power of China, recite his poetry and discuss his works, according to him and event organizers.
He said he had planned to travel to Australia after the United States, where he was scheduled to attend the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature in New York.
But authorities denied Liao permission on March 28, prompting British author Salman Rushdie to write in April in the New York Times that there were fears Liao “could be the regime’s next target.”
Liao was jailed for four years in 1990 after he wrote a poem called “Massacre” commemorating the students who were killed by army tanks in the pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests.
“I can’t publish a single word in China. The authorities have told me that if I publish my works, I’ll be strictly punished,” he said.
But he insisted he had no interest in political issues.
“My focus is on literature. All I‘m doing is writing stories,” he said. “I‘m totally baffled. My own destiny can’t even be controlled by myself.”
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie