Nobel Laureate Granted Family Visits

Chinese authorities lift a ban on prison visits by a prominent dissident’s family members.

china-liu-empty-305.jpg The empty chair with a diploma and medal that should have been awarded to Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo (portrait L) at the Oslo City Hall, Dec. 10, 2010.

Jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo has been permitted a monthly family visit, according to his lawyer, one year after the Nobel Peace Prize committee angered Beijing by granting him the award for his work on human rights.

The decision to allow visitation rights came as Liu’s brothers met with him last month at his prison in Jinzhou, in northeastern Liaoning province.

It was the first time the brothers had seen each other since shortly after Liu was awarded the Nobel Prize on Oct. 8, 2010.

Phone calls to two of Liu Xiaobo’s lawyers and his brothers went unanswered Tuesday, with China in the midst of a week-long National Day holiday.

But a third lawyer, Ding Xikui, confirmed the monthly visits.

“Monthly visits to a jailed family member are a right mandated by Chinese law,” Ding told RFA by phone.

Liu, 55, was sentenced in December 2009 to 11 years in prison for his role in authoring Charter 08 which called for sweeping changes in China's government.

According to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy (IFCHRD), Liu’s elder brothers Xiaoguang and Xiaohui, and his younger brother Xiaoxuan, visited the pro-democracy activist in September to inform him of their father’s recent death.

The three men said he was later taken to the family home in Dalian to mourn, but could not accept interviews at the time.

The brothers said Liu Xiaobo looked well and was happy to see them. They also said that prison authorities had warned them not to disclose details of the meeting, including the date of the visit.

They said that as part of the arrangement to allow monthly family visits, authorities are believed to be arranging a meeting between Liu and his wife, Liu Xia, by the end of October.

Liu Xia last saw her husband a year ago, when she visited him to inform him that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize. She is believed to have been held under house arrest at her home in Beijing since then and has had virtually no contact with the outside world.

‘Delicate’ treatment

Longtime dissident Qin Yongmin said prison authorities had likely barred Liu’s family from visiting him in the year since he won the Nobel Prize in order to sever his connection with his followers.

“Liu Xiaobo is now undoubtedly a leader of Chinese political opposition groups, so the authorities wish to cut his ties with the outside,” Qin said.

But Qin predicted more improvement in Liu’s treatment.

“The very harsh seclusion Liu was held under until now is partly an overreaction by the authorities to the so-called Jasmine Revolution or Arab Spring,” he said, referring to anonymous calls early this year for protests inspired by uprisings in the Middle East.

“Not too far from now, however, the authorities will be more polite with Liu and his family.”

He said authorities treat political prisoners in China differently based on how much attention they receive.

“From my own prison experience, the authorities treat individual dissidents quite differently. The more famous you have become, the more delicately they will deal with you,” Qin said.

As one of China’s most prominent political prisoners, Qin was jailed several times over his pro-democracy activities.

“Liu Xiaobo should not be suffering too much in jail, as he was awarded the Nobel Prize. The authorities must be keeping a close watch on him,” he said.

Call for release

Meanwhile, well-known Chinese dissident Huang Qi recently called on the Chinese government to immediately release Liu and all other political prisoners unconditionally.

“I welcome the government decision to allow Liu Xiaobo’s family to visit him in jail. However, I urge the Chinese authorities to release all prisoners of conscience, including dissidents, Falun Gong practitioners, and other rights activists,” he said in a statement.

“I sincerely hope the government will release these heroes who fought for the human rights and democracy of the Chinese people.”

Huang himself was set free from prison this past June after being jailed in November 2009 for “possessing state secrets” related to the collapse of school buildings during the 2008 earthquake in southern Sichuan province.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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