A rights activist close to Liu Xia, the wife of jailed Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, has hit out at her continued incarceration at the couple's Beijing home, calling it "inhumane" and against Chinese law, while her lawyer says there are no signs the authorities are easing restrictions on her.
Their comments came as a crying and trembling Liu gave her first media interview in 26 months, speaking out for the first time about her ill-health and extreme isolation.
"We live in such an absurd place," she told a journalist from the Associated Press, who managed to get to her front door while her guards were on their lunch break.
"It is so absurd," she said, in the brief interview during which she said she has lost count of the days she has been confined, and feels as if her situation is "almost" the same as her husband's.
Liu said that apart from an escorted monthly visit to see Liu Xiaobo in prison, she hasn't left the couple's apartment since his Nobel Peace Prize was announced in October 2010, a move which infuriated Beijing.
"He understands more or less," she said. "I told him: 'I am almost going through what you are going through.'"
"I felt I was a person emotionally prepared to respond to the consequences of Liu Xiaobo winning the prize. But after he won the prize, I really never imagined that after he won, I would not be able to leave my home," Liu Xia said.
"This is too absurd. I think Kafka could not have written anything more absurd and unbelievable than this."
Liu Xia's lawyer Shang Baojun said he has been unable to visit her since her period of house arrest began, and is only able to learn how she is via her family.
He said it is unlikely that the interview was deliberately allowed to take place.
"The guards probably just got sloppy," he said. "The journalist was pretty lucky. If they had let her out, she would definitely have gotten in touch with me."
Fellow activist Hu Jia, who has himself tried without success to visit Liu Xia at her apartment, said her continued detention there is "inhumane."
"Liu Xia is another kind of political prisoner; one that is even more vulnerable than regular prisoners of conscience," he said.
"In name, she is a free person, but in fact she is in the same situation as her husband. She has been cut off from contact with the outside world."
"It must be very hard for her, as a woman, to see nothing but police guards every day and to have no way to communicate with society."
"This is even more inhumane and is a clear violation of the law," Hu said.
According to the Associated Press report, Liu appeared frail and said she suffers from a back injury that has kept her confined to her bed.
She wore her hair in the same close-shaved style she adopted before Liu Xiabo's detention in 2009.
Liu is a poet, photographer, and painter, as well as a rights activist in her own right.
She told AP she spends her time reading and sometimes painting.
She said that Liu Xiaobo was in good health during her last visit, but that she couldn't remember the date of the trip.
"I can't remember," she said. "I don't keep track of the days anymore. That's how it is."
Liu's brief contact with the outside world came shortly after an open letter signed by 134 Nobel laureates across all disciplines called on Chinese leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping to release Liu Xiaobo, who has served four years of an 11-year jail term for subversion, and to free Liu Xia from house arrest.
Winners of Nobel prizes for peace, but also for physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and economics, signed an open letter to Xi, who will be sworn in as China's new president in March, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the couple.
"No government can restrict freedom of thought and association without having a negative effect on ... important human innovation," said the letter, which was signed by Nobel peace laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, as well as by authors Mario Vargas Llosa and Toni Morrison.
"Across all disciplines, the distinguishing feature which led to our recognition as Nobel Laureates is that we have embraced the power of our intellectual freedom and creative inspiration to do our part to advance the human condition," said the letter.
The international campaign to release Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia is being led by Archbishop Tutu and medicine laureate Sir Richard Roberts, backed by the U.S.-based group Freedom Now, which acts internationally as legal counsel to the couple.
Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service, and by the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.