The family of imprisoned Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo has dismissed rumors that he will receive an early release on medical grounds, his former lawyer said Wednesday.
China’s microblogs were awash with tweets this week claiming that Liu, a democratic reform advocate who was sentenced to 11 years in jail in 2009 for subversion, had been granted early release for medical treatment and that his wife, Liu Xia, was preparing to go pick him up from Jinzhou prison in eastern China’s Liaoning province.
But Liu’s former lawyer, Shang Baojun, denied the reports, saying the dissident’s family members had not been informed of any medical parole.
"From what I know, it is not true. I contacted Liu Xia’s family to ask them about it and they said no such thing has happened. I don't know where such news came from,” he told RFA’s Cantonese service.
Shang, who defended Liu during his subversion trial in 2009, said Liu Xia remains under house arrest in Beijing.
“Nothing has changed. She is still under residential surveillance.”
Liu Xia has been under strict house arrest since the announcement in October 2010 that her imprisoned husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “long and nonviolent struggle for human rights in China.”
Liu Xiaobo, a literary critic and former professor, was detained in December 2008 after he helped draft Charter 08, a manifesto calling for sweeping changes in China's government that was signed by thousands of netizens.
A year later, he was sentenced to 11 years in jail for “inciting subversion of state power” in the charter and in six other articles published online.
China censored news of the Nobel and the award ceremony in Oslo, when Liu’s medal and diploma were presented to an empty chair, an image that became a symbol for the dissident among his supporters online.
Since September last year, authorities have not allowed any of the dissident’s family members aside from his wife to visit, Liu Xiaobo’s younger brother Liu Xiaoguang told the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.
Liu Xiaoguang, who lives in Dalian, also told the organization that he had not been notified of any medical parole.
RFA’s calls to their other brother Liu Xiaoxuan in Guangzhou went unanswered.
Rumors that the dissident was to be freed also circulated the Twittersphere last April, but were later proved unfounded.
China has previously allowed high-profile prisoners to be released on medical parole, with some dissidents quietly slipping out of the country and going into exile after their release.
As the rumors of an early release for Liu Xiaobo were rejected, lawyers for another prominent Chinese dissident were denied permission this week to visit him in prison in remote Xinjiang province.
The two lawyers hired by Gao Zhisheng’s relatives traveled to the prison in Shayar county on Monday but were refused a visit, according to the U.S.-based Christian group ChinaAid.
The lawyers, Li Subin and Li Xiongbing, confirmed in interviews with RFA that they could not meet with Gao, a lawyer himself who defended activists and religious minorities before his imprisonment.
Gao has only received one visit by his family since a formal announcement of his imprisonment in December last year. His whereabouts were unknown until authorities told his family in January 2012 that he was being held in Xinjiang, after a court revoked his parole on a suspended sentence for "inciting subversion" and ordered him to serve out three years in jail.
ChinaAid President Bob Fu said he learned from the two lawyers that they arrived at the prison on Monday morning and submitted a request to meet with Gao.
But prison officials told them they could not see the prisoner because Gao does not want to meet with family or lawyers and a visit was against the rules, Fu said.
They were also told that Gao himself is a qualified lawyer who does not need to be represented by others and that they had no legal authority to represent or visit him.
They protested the decision to Xinjiang’s Bureau of Prisons the next day, but officials there maintained that they could not visit Gao, Fu said.
The two lawyers were entrusted with Gao’s case last month by his brother, Gao Zhiyi, who confirmed they were involved with the case but refused to comment on their visit to the prison.
“I do not know whether they went or not. I entrusted them a month ago,” he told RFA.
Once lauded by China's ruling Communist Party, Gao fell afoul of the government after he defended some of China's most vulnerable people, including Christians, coal miners, and followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.
In 2006, authorities arrested Gao and handed him the sentence for “inciting subversion” that was later suspended, but over the next five years, Gao repeatedly suffered forced disappearances and torture, his wife, who is now in the U.S., has said.
Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA’s Cantonese service and by Gao Shan for RFA’s Mandarin service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.