Hong Kong-based rights groups on Wednesday marked the fourth anniversary of the jailing of Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo with calls for his immediate release, and for an end to his wife's house arrest.
Dozens of protesters marched to the offices of the ruling Chinese Communist Party in the former British colony on Wednesday to seek Liu's freedom and an end to the house arrest of Liu Xia, who is believed to be suffering from severe depression following three years of confinement in the couple's Beijing apartment.
Protesters carried an empty chair ahead of the demonstration, in symbolic reference to the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo, which neither Liu nor his wife could attend.
"I think it's a time for us to remind all the people around the world especially the Chinese people that they should not forget Liu Xiaobo," Hong Kong legislator Leung Kwok-hung told reporters at the protest.
"And also, his wife, Liu Xia, has been put under house arrest for nearly three years," he said.
Liu Xiaobo, who has been in jail for nearly five years in total following his detention for co-authoring a controversial political document, last month 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, authorities in Jinzhou Prison in northeast China's Liaoning province, where Liu is serving the prison sentence handed down in 2009, have so far refused permission for Liu to receive visits from his legal team.
Liu's lawyer Shang Baojun said there had been no change in the official attitude to the appeal.
"We have formally requested a meeting, but we haven't had a response yet," he said in an interview on Wednesday. "They are just ignoring us."
Liu Xiaobo, 57, 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.
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 of the couple say she is in poor physical and mental health after her long house arrest, and have relayed messages from Liu Xia calling for the right to leave her apartment to seek paid work and independent medical treatment for depression.
Liu Xia's brother Liu Hui was convicted of "fraud" this year and sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges which the family say are official retaliation for Liu Xiaobo's activism.
Shang said it was "inconvenient" to discuss the plight of Liu Xia and her family, a term often used by those involved in politically sensitive cases to indicate that they may be under surveillance.
But he added: "There has been little change in Liu Xia's state."
He said Liu Xiaobo's legal team were basing the extraordinary appeal on an argument that their client is innocent.
"We are still arguing that he is innocent, and want him released as soon as possible," Shang said. "We also would like the authorities to give us a response as soon as possible about a meeting [with Liu Xiaobo]."
Liu Xiaobo 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.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia at a ceremony in Oslo in which he was represented by an empty chair.
Beijing was angered by the award, which was decided by a committee appointed by the Norwegian parliament, freezing top-level diplomatic contact between the two nations, causing Norwegian salmon exports to the country to plunge amid restrictions.
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.