Marking Two Years of House Arrest

Little is known of the status of Liu Xia, wife of imprisoned Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiaobo.

liu-xia-305.jpg Liu Xia in Beijing, Sept. 28, 2010.

Two years after her husband, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Liu Xia remains incommunicado and under house arrest in Beijing, the family's lawyer said this week.

"She has no way to get in touch with the outside world," Shang Baojun, Liu's defense attorney, said in an interview after the anniversary of the Nobel Prize committee's announcement of the award, when her house arrest began.

"If she needs to go shopping, she has to have a police escort," he said. "Basically, she has totally lost her freedom."

He said Liu Xia was still able to visit Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced to prison in 2009 for his participation on the Charter 08 democracy manifesto, "when things are normal."

China has launched a nationwide "stability" drive ahead of a crucial leadership transition at the 18th National Congress of the ruling Chinese Communist Party next month, with many rights activists and dissidents reported to be under house arrest, either in their homes or in out-of-town locations like holiday resorts.

Shang said he was unable to confirm recent media reports that Liu Xia was beginning to suffer psychological strain from her long period of confinement, however.

"Of course she is under a huge amount of pressure," he said. "But our understanding of Liu Xia's situation isn't quite as they say it is."

"I have recently met with Liu Xia's mother and other relatives, and I think they would have told us if there was a problem with her health," Shang said.

Legal status

China has declined to comment on Liu Xia's situation, although Beijing reacted with fury to the decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, and boycotted the award ceremony, at which he was represented by an empty chair.

Judicial official Jiang Wei, who heads a committee looking into judicial reform in China, told reporters on Tuesday that Liu Xia's legal status was a matter for Chinese officials.

"It is not for you, or me to decide, whether or not an individual has broken the law," Jiang told reporters in response to a question about why she was being held. "It is for the relevant organs to decide, according to the law."

"As for the matter you raise, I have no information to give you, and you can ask the relevant departments if you want to know more," he said.

Patrick Poon, director of the Hong Kong branch of the writers' group Independent Chinese PEN, said the group had called repeatedly on the Chinese government to release Liu Xiaobo and to end Liu Xia's house arrest.

"We have no way to confirm any of the information we have heard about the situation of Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia, and this proves that the outside world can't get news of them," Poon said.

But he said the reports that Beijing wanted to negotiate "medical parole" overseas with the family seemed plausible, given the way China has dealt with prominent dissidents in the past.

"The Chinese government has no excuse for forcibly holding Liu Xia under house arrest, so perhaps they are using this to put pressure on Liu Xiaobo to go overseas, probably with a few conditions attached," he said.

China’s microblogs were awash with tweets last month claiming that Liu Xiaobo, 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 Liu Xia was preparing to go pick him up from Jinzhou prison in eastern China’s Liaoning province.

Targeted couple

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 prize 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, rights groups say.

Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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