Updated at 8:45 ET on 2014-02-07
Liu Xia, wife of jailed Chinese Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, recently visited her husband in prison during the Chinese New Year period but was prevented from eating a celebratory meal with him to mark the festive family season, her brother said.
As millions across China took to overcrowded trains, planes, and buses to usher in the Year of the Horse with extended family last week, Liu Xia was permitted one brief visit before the New Year with her husband at Jinzhou Prison in Liaoning province, where he is serving an 11-year prison sentence handed down in 2009.
"They were only able to meet and speak together, but not to eat a New Year meal together," Liu Xia's brother Liu Tong said, referring to the family reunion meal that was shared by millions of households in homes across China on Jan. 31.
"My sister visited her parents in Beijing twice; once on New Year's eve and on the third day of the new year," Liu Tong said. "The main purpose of the visit was to wish each other well at Chinese New Year."
He said Liu Xia, who has said in a recent statement that she needs treatment for depression, had only one wish for the Year of the Horse.
"She wants to live like normal people," he told RFA's Cantonese Service.
Call for reforms
Liu Xiaobo, 58, a literary critic and former professor, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China" in a decision that infuriated Beijing, which says he has broken Chinese law.
He 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, and is serving an 11-year prison sentence for "inciting subversion of state power."
His wife Liu Xia, 54, remains incommunicado and under strict house arrest at the couple's home in Beijing, where she has been held since her husband's award was announced.
Close friends are concerned that Liu Xia, who was diagnosed with coronary disease in the 1990s, has suffered deteriorating mental health following years of solitary house arrest.
Liu Xia herself has called on the government to allow her to visit a doctor of her choice, and to allow her to get a job to support herself financially.
Liu Xiaobo's defense lawyer Mo Shaoping said Liu Xia's mental state seemed "hardly improved" in a recent phone call.
"She is hoping to be allowed to go overseas to seek medical care," Mo said.
"She has been in economic difficulties since her brother [Liu Hui] was jailed, and she wants to organize exhibits overseas where she can sell her art and photographic work at auction," he said.
"If that doesn't work, she will have to sell her apartment to get some kind of income."
No response to requests
Mo said the prison authorities have yet to respond to repeated requests for a meeting with Liu Xiaobo, who has been in jail for nearly five years in total following his detention for co-authoring a controversial political document.
Liu recently agreed to the lodging of an extraordinary appeal against his conviction and 11-year jail term for "incitement to subvert state power," handed down in 2009.
Under Chinese law, the goal of an extraordinary appeal is a retrial, based on evidence of flaws in the original trial procedure, or new evidence that has come to light.
However, prison authorities in Liaoning province have so far refused permission for Liu to receive visits from his legal team, including Mo.
"The law allows for meetings between a lawyer and their client," Mo said, adding that he had recently written once more to the local prison management bureau asking for clarification.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story said Liu Xia visited her husband twice before the New Year.