Activists in Hong Kong on Friday launched a Valentine's Day campaign in support of Liu Xia, the wife of a jailed Nobel peace laureate who has been held under house arrest since 2010.
Supporters of Liu Xia and Liu Xiaobo gathered in a busy shopping district to shave their heads in public to show solidarity with the couple, as the family requested permission for her to seek medical treatment overseas.
Lau Ka-yee, a spokewoman for the Liu Xia Concern Group, said the protest coincided both with Valentine's Day and the traditional Chinese dumpling festival of Yuan Xiao.
"We want to send out our love and deepest respect to Liu Xia, but also to call the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party to account in the strongest possible terms," Lau said.
"We have three men and women from the concern group who have shaved their heads [as couples], and several others who came forward to do it as well, making 10 people altogether," she said.
"We also want to launch this protest action all around the world, as well as in Hong Kong," Lau said.
Hong Kong legislators and labor activists Lee Cheuk-yan and Leung Yiu-chung, along with veteran journalist Ching Cheong were among those who shaved in protest at Liu Xia's continued detention.
"Our action today is a reminder for all that China is ruled without law," Ching told reporters. "What crime has Liu Xia committed that led to the stripping of her constitutional rights?"
'We are all Liu Xia'
The protest was inspired by Liu Xia's shaving of her own head since Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to an 11-year jail term for subversion in 2009.
"We are taking this ... action to show that we are all Liu Xia," event organizer Chow Hang-tung, a member of the writers' group Independent Chinese PEN, added.
The protest also makes a pun of the word "hair" in Chinese, which sounds similar to "law."
Beijing-based activist Hu Jia said Liu Xia's detention was a crime being perpetrated by the state itself.
"This is extremely inhuman; a crime by the state," Hu said. "We must stand together with her on a day that unites both East and West, which comes only once in a blue moon."
"We want to show her that we are all Liu Xia, that we are on her side."
The activists also called for the unconditional release of Liu Xiaobo and other political dissidents.
The protest comes after Liu Xia's lawyer Shang Baojun told Hong Kong media that she was briefly hospitalized for a heart attack last month, and was later evicted from the hospital after she returned for a scheduled observation.
Shang told RFA's Mandarin Service that there had been no final diagnosis on her health situation, but said he was convinced that prolonged house arrest could only aggravate her medical problems.
“The diagnostic report hasn’t come out yet, so we're not sure if it [her health] will get worse or not, but this is serious," he said.
"Those with heart problems experience chest pain and tightness. Her abnormal detention will surely make her situation worse because she can’t exercise or take in sunlight, and this can lead to many problems.”
Mo Shaoping, a second member of her legal team, said Liu Xia's health had deteriorated after Chinese New Year, leading the family to request permission for her to travel overseas to seek medical treatment.
"If hospitals inside China won't treat her, of course Liu Xia and her family hope that she will be allowed to seek treatment overseas," Mo said.
"They have indeed already made this request to the police, but the police haven't responded yet."
Liu Xia’s brother Liu Tong said that that he was reluctant to talk too much about his sister, but expressed concern over her health.
“She should be able to see doctors, otherwise she might die," he said.
"She needs a medical examination.”
Guangzhou-based writer Ye Du, who is a close friend of the Lius, hit out at Liu Xia's detention, which began in October 2010 after her husband's Nobel Peace Prize was announced.
"They should restore Liu Xia's right to exist by allowing her to seek medical attention and to have her own income," Ye said.
"Liu Xia was economically dependent on Liu Hui, but since he was imprisoned, their financial problems have become quite serious," he added.
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 lawyers would like to seek a retrial via an extraordinary appeal, but prison authorities have so far refused to allow Liu to meet with them.
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.