Terminally Ill Chinese Dissident 'Not Free', Wants to Seek Cancer Treatment Overseas

Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo's communications with the outside world are being carefully controlled by Chinese officials, sources close to the family said.

Liu Xiaobo's wife Liu Xia takes care of her husband at an unidentified hospital in Shenyang, Liaoning province, June 30, 2017.

Jailed political prisoner Liu Xiaobo, who is suffering from terminal liver cancer, would prefer to be treated overseas, but officials are putting huge pressure on him and his family, making it hard for his wishes to be known, sources close to the family told RFA.

"Their wish all along has definitely been to seek medical treatment overseas at the earliest possible opportunity," Beijing Film Academy professor Hao Jian said in an interview on Monday, as the German government added its voice to a growing chorus of international pressure on the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

"[Liu and his wife Liu Xia]'s desire to go overseas is their own affair, but all of the statements made by officials to date have glossed over this point," Hao said. "This isn't affected by whether you see Liu as a good or bad person."

He said Liu's mental state would be greatly improved by being allowed to leave China.

Another friend of the family who declined to be named said there isn't quite enough international pressure on Beijing for them to act.

"If the pressure doesn't reach a certain level, then they won't do anything about it," the friend said. "They will just keep repeating the same mantra ... which is that Liu and his family are satisfied with the medical care he is receiving."

And a third friend said Liu has no power to request or demand anything in his current situation.

"The problem is that it's not really Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia who are speaking to the outside world here," the friend said. "Liu Xiaobo has no freedom whatsoever."

He dismissed official claims that the family is happy with the treatment on offer.

"There isn't a scrap of evidence to back up [official] claims about Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia's opinions," the friend said. "It's not hard to imagine that their statements thanking the authorities were made under huge official pressure."

Fellow Beijing rights activist Hu Jia, a long-term friend of the Lius, said the government is currently hoping to play down Liu Xiaobo's case by claiming the family is happy with the situation.

"I think this is an attempt to counter international criticism," Hu said. "They are trying to avoid taking responsibility by saying how well they are treating him."

"But if they had treated him properly in the first place, Liu wouldn't be in this situation where he 'suddenly' has late-stage liver cancer," he said.

On the eve of a state visit to Berlin by Chinese President Xi Jinping, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert called on Beijing to ensure Liu gets "all the medical support he needs."

"We have taken note of reports on requests for Mr. Liu and his wife to travel abroad," Seibert said. "The government believes that in such a difficult situation, a humanitarian solution for Liu Xiaobo should be the highest priority."

Xi's visit to Germany will include the gifting of a pair of pandas at the Berlin zoo and a football match, after which he and Chancellor Angela Merkel will attend the G20 leadership summit in Hamburg.

Information control

Police in Beijing have meanwhile place a number of Liu's friends and fellow activists under close surveillance and house arrest in a bid to stop further information from getting out.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Asia bureau director Cedric Alviani said China's increasing financial clout on the world stage means that Beijing is increasingly taking a harder line with dissent than in the past.

"Officials are becoming increasingly arrogant, and constantly avoid the issue," Alviani said. "During the G20 summit, China will be at its most exposed to people asking about Liu Xiaobo, which will be helpful in putting pressure on the Chinese leadership to take responsibility."

"We call on the government to abide by the constitution of the People's Republic of China and allow its citizens the freedoms to which they are entitled," he said.

A literary critic and former professor, Liu was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize "for his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China" in a decision that infuriated Beijing, which says he has broken Chinese law. During the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Liu was represented by an empty chair.

Beijing cut off trade ties with Norway in the wake of the award, although the Norwegian government said it had nothing to do with the decision. Ties were only fully resumed last December.

Liu has been held since 2008 after helping to draft Charter 08, a manifesto calling for sweeping changes in China's government that was signed by thousands of supporters.

Reported by Xin Lin and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Goh Fung for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.