Chinese authorities warned off or barred more than 20 mainland writers from coming to Hong Kong for a major conference in its latest crackdown on dissent and the media, organisers said Monday.
International PEN, a writers' association, said banned members included renowned Chinese writer Zhang Yihe, whose Past Stories of Peking Opera Stars was one of eight books recently banned on the mainland.
PEN, which represents 800 members worldwide, including jailed writers and those in exile, said "more than one official" advised Zhang not to come to the former British colony although it declined to disclose their identities.
The conference, which ended Monday, was for writers from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan to discuss topics including exiled and women authors, censorship, Internet publishing and copyright.
PEN said the actions by the Chinese government highlighted the issue of freedom of expression in the country.
"PEN has nine centres representing writers in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and abroad and has great respect for Chinese writers and Chinese literature," said PEN President Jiri Grusa.
"But we are very concerned by the restrictions on the writers in mainland China to write, travel and associate freely," he told reporters.
One writer, Qin Geng, had his permit rescinded and two others were denied permission to leave China despite obtaining permits in advance, PEN said.
|Zhang Yihe's Past Stories of Peking Opera Stars has been banned in China|
The move came after the lifting on January 1 of some restrictions on foreign reporters, allowing them more freedom to travel ahead of next year's Beijing Olympic Games, as well as China's support for a United Nations resolution on the protection of journalists in war zones.
Yet almost at the same time, Chinese President Hu Jintao announced a new drive to control the Internet, while government censors said they were planning to step up monitoring of primetime TV.
Huang Liangtian, editor of a popular Chinese publication, Baixing or Popular Masses, was fired last month after reporting widely on corruption, driving home the fact that new relaxed rules on foreign journalists do not apply to locals.
PEN's international secretary Joanne Leedom-Ackerman said China was sending out mixed messages, relaxing rules for foreign reporters yet at the same time maintaining a tight grip on local media.
Prominent Chinese journalist Gao Yu, who was jailed for seven years on the mainland for leaking state secrets, also slammed the differences in the treatment of foreign and mainland journalists.
"In this so-called harmonious society, the Chinese authorities are now trying to win understanding, help and sympathy from the international community because of the Olympics," said Gao, whose works are banned.
"Why do you prosecute reporters inside China? Why do you have such different politics and attitudes for foreign reporters and reporters in China?" she said, calling for greater press freedom in the country.
Experts say 30,000-40,000 Internet police are working on strengthening the so-called Great Firewall of China that keeps the free-flow of Internet information beyond the reach of the Chinese people.
Although Reporters Without Borders said there had been some improvements, it still ranks China 163rd out of 167 countries on its global press freedom index.