As the wife of Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo revealed that his liver cancer has progressed beyond the point of surgery, calls are growing for him to be allowed to seek medical help outside China.
Liu's wife Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest and in prolonged isolation at the couple's Beijing home since his award was announced in October 2010, said chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery have all been ruled out as treatment options, as her husband's cancer has already spread.
"Neither surgery, nor radiotherapy nor chemo are possible," a tearful Liu Xia said to the camera, confirming earlier reports on social media that the veteran dissident's cancer had metastasized.
Chinese and foreign human rights lawyers and activists have been demanding the unconditional release of the democracy campaigner after news emerged that he had been transferred with late-stage liver cancer to a hospital in the northeastern province of Liaoning.
Fujian-based rights activist You Jingyou said he has doubts that Liu's illness could only have been diagnosed in May.
"There is a progression of liver cancer between the early stages and the late, and I don't think it's likely that the authorities didn't know about it," You said. "Liu Xiaobo is a very prominent person, and yet they dare to treat him in such a manner."
"What about ordinary people then? It's enough to make your hair stand on end. It's absolutely terrible."
An employee who answered the phone at the Shenyang Medical University oncology department declined to confirm Liu's presence there.
"I can't find the name if you don't have the [patient's] number," the employee said. "It only works if you have the number."
Liu, 61, who still had three years left to serve of an 11-year jail term for "incitement to subvert state power," had been repeatedly denied medical parole earlier in his sentences, which sources said was owing to his refusal to "admit to his crimes."
The U.S. embassy in Beijing said it was "working to gather more information" about Liu's legal and medical status after authorities confirmed his transfer from prison to hospital.
"We call on the Chinese authorities to not only release Mr. Liu but also to allow his wife Ms. Liu Xia out of house arrest," spokeswoman Mary Beth Polley told Agence France-Presse on Tuesday.
She said Liu is entitled to "freedom of movement and access to medical care of his choosing," according to China’s constitution and international agreements.
The prison bureau of Liaoning province announced via social media that "well-known tumor experts" are attending Liu in his Shenyang hospital, but fellow activists and sources close to the family say they have no way to be sure that he is indeed being properly treated.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China on Monday called on President Donald Trump to arrange for Liu's "immediate humanitarian transfer to the United States."
But Beijing has rejected the calls, saying Liu's treatment is its own business.
"We have said many times that no country has the right to gesticulate about China's internal affairs," foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing.
"All other countries should respect China's judicial independence and sovereignty and should not use any so-called individual case to interfere in China's internal affairs," Lu said.
Reported by Ding Wenqi for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Goh Fung for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.