Nobel Laureate Hospitalized with Late-stage Cancer

Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy report on the hospitalization of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. Liu helped broker many protesters’ escape from Tiananmen Square during the June 4 1989 crackdown, and served several prison terms for his activism before receiving his current sentence eleven-year sentence for "inciting subversion" with his participation in the Charter 08 democracy manifesto.

Mr. Liu, who had been imprisoned in northeast China, was found in late May to have advanced liver cancer and was hospitalized soon after, said one of the lawyers, Shang Baojun, citing Mr. Liu’s relatives. Mr. Shang said the outlook for Mr. Liu appeared grim.

“It seems to be very serious, very serious,” he said. “If it was an early stage of cancer, then that would be easier to treat. But at this late stage, the treatment seems much more difficult.”

[…] “ is receiving treatment according to a medical plan,” the [Liaoning Prison Administrative Bureau] said. It said a team of eight cancer specialists had advised on his treatment. The English-language website of Global Times, a Chinese state-run newspaper, also reported the administration’s statement.

[…] The Chinese government will probably censor information about Mr. Liu’s illness to ensure that it does not cause wider political ripples, said Liang Xiaojun, a human rights lawyer in Beijing. No reports about Mr. Liu’s cancer and hospitalization appeared in the state-run news media, and many Chinese, especially younger people, have little or no understanding of Mr. Liu and his role in the 1989 protests. [Source]

Rumors of Liu’s prospective parole have circulated for years. A statement by the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation clarified the nature of the current arrangement, and warned that he should not be regarded as "free" or "released":

Under Chinese law, medical parole is granted for an initial period of six months. After six months, the condition of the individual granted medical parole is assessed. The period of medical parole can be extended, or the parolee can be ordered back to prison to serve the remainder of his or her sentence.

According to regulations on handling granted medical parole issued in 1995, during the period of medical parole the parolee is supervised by local public security bureaus. It is likely that Liu Xiaobo is being supervised by armed guards.

It is not correct to say that the prisoner granted medical parole is “free,” nor is it correct to say that the prisoner has been “released.” The prisoner is still serving his/or her sentence, albeit in a location other than the prison itself. Monthly family visits are allowed. Time spent under medical parole counts against the sentence.

“In the past, prisoners granted medical parole have been allowed to go abroad for ,” noted Dui Hua executive director John Kamm. “Common in the early years of the last decade, a prisoner granted medical parole has rarely been allowed to go abroad for in recent years. Dui Hua calls on the prison authorities to allow Liu Xiaobo and his wife to go abroad for if they so desire.” [Source]

Liu’s wife, poet , has been held under strict house arrest since the announcement in 2010, and her physical and emotional health have at times suffered gravely. Footage of a video call with her has circulated on social media since the news of her husband’s illness emerged:

CDT has tracked coverage of Liu Xia’s plight throughout her confinement. Ian Johnson focused on her situation and poetry in a New York Review of Books article last September. The same month, she wrote a poem about her and her husband’s predicaments, and her monthly trips to visit him. David Cowhig translated it on his blog in December. It begins:

I Am Tired
I am tired
I am tired of my white pills
I am tired of the smiles I make at you
I am tired of the toilet on the train
I am tired of what they say about you
I am tired of being tired [Source]

The Guardian’s Benjamin Haas gathered some reactions to the news of Liu Xiaobo’s medical parole:

“This is simply a political murder, this is how the Communist party deals with its enemies, a prisoner of conscience dying just outside a jail cell,” said , a fellow activist who has known Liu for more than a decade and previously collaborated with him. “I’ve been to prison in China. The medical care is terrible and I’m sure China’s leaders were hoping for this outcome.”

[…] Zhang Xuezhong, a legal scholar and human rights activist, said Liu had been a symbol of hope for many years.

“It’s known that Liu Xiaobo and his family have made a tremendous sacrifice for the cause of freedom and democracy for China,” said Zhang. “This is unfortunate news for him and his family, and it’s a blow to China’s democracy movement, as so many people have placed hope in him, and rightfully so.”

[…] A foreign ministry spokesman was “not aware of the situation” when asked about Liu’s case at a daily press briefing. [Source]

The Wall Street Journal’s Josh Chin and Te-ping Chen presented more responses noting the growing international reticence on human rights in China:

“The world community has largely forgotten Liu Xiaobo, ” said , director of the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at New York University. He said Mr. Liu’s fate was a sad reminder of longstanding oppression in China.

In the years since Mr. Liu was arrested, Beijing has seen its international clout grow. Chinese investment has poured into Africa, across Asia and elsewhere and Beijing has become more assertive about wielding that economic influence to further strategic interests. Criticism of its imprisonment of Mr. Liu and other dissidents has grown fainter.

“China has paid a very small price for imprisoning Liu Xiaobo,” said Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London. “It’s a reflection of the rise of China. We see most countries don’t want to pick a fight with the Chinese,” he said.

[…] “Things have become even worse under Xi,” said Mr. Cohen of New York University. [Source]

Elsewhere, legal scholar and fellow Charter 08 signatory He Weifang told The Globe and Mail that he is "very worried" about Liu’s health, but that he could say no more. In May, He announced his withdrawal from social media, telling the Associated Press that "I feel utterly helpless. It’s as if I’m not allowed to make a single sound."

The Norwegian Nobel Committee posted a statement on the Nobel Prize website. The statement is accompanied on the site’s front page by the text of the "final statement" he wrote on the day of his trial, which was read at his prize ceremony in lieu of an acceptance speech, and by a short documentary created to mark the award.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has received the news about the release of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo with a mixture of relief and deep worry.

The Committee is delighted to learn that Liu Xiaobo is out of prison at long last. At the same time the Committee strongly regrets that it took serious illness before Chinese authorities were willing to release him from jail. Liu Xiaobo has fought a relentless struggle in favour of democracy and human rights in China and has already paid a heavy price for his involvement. He was, essentially, convicted for exercising his freedom of speech and should never have been sentenced to jail in the first place. Chinese authorities carry a heavy responsibility if Liu Xiaobo, because of his imprisonment, has been denied necessary medical treatment. The Committee hopes that he will now be released without conditions and offered the best possible treatment for his illness, whether it be in China or abroad. Finally, the Committee would like to confirm its standing invitation to Liu Xiaobo to come to Oslo and receive the Committee’s tribute. Due to his imprisonment Liu Xiaobo was unable to attend the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in 2010. His designated chair at the podium in the Oslo City Hall was left empty. [Source]

Tiananmen student leaders Wu’er Kaixi and Wang Dan also issued a joint statement:

Amnesty International’s Patrick Poon commented:

“It adds injury to insult that Liu Xiaobo, who should never have been put in prison in the first place, has been diagnosed with a grave illness.

“The Chinese authorities should immediately ensure that Liu Xiaobo receives adequate medical care, effective access to his family and that he and all others imprisoned solely for exercising their human rights are immediately and unconditionally released.

“The authorities must also stop their shameful and illegal house arrest of Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia, and ensure that she is able to receive visitors, travel freely and reunite with Liu Xiaobo.” [Source]

Human Rights Watch highlighted broader concerns about medical treatment for Chinese political prisoners, which according to reports has variously been withheld, used as leverage, or inappropriately and harmfully administered.

"The Chinese government’s culpability for wrongfully imprisoning Liu Xiaobo is deepened by the fact that they released him only when he became gravely ill,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should immediately allow Liu Xiaobo and his wife, Liu Xia, to seek proper treatment wherever they wish.”

[…] Chinese authorities have in past years allowed at least two other prominent critics of the government to become gravely ill in detention and die there or in hospitals. In March 2014, Cao Shunli, an activist who had tried to participate in China’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council, died in a Beijing hospital after being arbitrarily detained in September 2013. Her family members had repeatedly warned that she was becoming gravely ill, but authorities only transferred her when she fell into a coma. And in July 2015, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a revered Tibetan lama who was serving a life sentence for “inciting separation of the state” following a trial that fell far short of international standards, died in detention after months of increasingly serious allegations that his health was deteriorating.

“The government of President Xi Jinping needs to be held to account for permitting yet another peaceful critic to fall gravely ill while unjustly detained,” Richardson said. “From those who ordered Liu’s prosecution to those who denied him adequate treatment in detention, and from those who arbitrarily detained Liu Xia on down, there are many people that need to be held accountable for their role in this cruel travesty.” [Source]

At The Guardian, former China correspondent Tania Branigan wrote that "Liu Xiaobo’s unbearable fate is [a] stark symbol of where China is heading":

There was no indication [Charter 08] had real mass appeal, still less a political impact. But it was a sign of the times. Liu believed the space for civil society was developing. By 2008, despite the tight political grip, China’s lawyers, intellectuals and grassroots campaigners had carved out a surprising amount of room for themselves. In part through the internet, despite extensive , but also through imaginative tactics and discussion, they found new ways to tackle injustices, question authorities and highlight abuses. They grew bolder.

Liu’s arrest was a sign of the times too. The security apparatus seized its opportunity. In China, people talk of killing the chicken to scare the monkeys – making an example of someone to warn others. Since Liu’s detention, the crackdown on dissent, activism and civil society more generally has mounted month by month. Beijing has expanded the security apparatus, introduced repressive new laws and tightened censorship. Rights lawyers, activists and others have been disbarred, detained and jailed. Many have made detailed allegations of torture, which the government denies.

All of this has been accompanied by ideological tightening across academia, religion, even state media and officialdom itself: a sort of sterilisation of the environment.

[…] “Where is China headed in the 21st century?” asked Charter 08. “Will it continue with ‘modernisation’ under authoritarian rule, or will it embrace universal human values, join the mainstream of civilised nations, and build a democratic system? There can be no avoiding these questions.”

Beijing has given its answer, and his name is Liu Xiaobo. [Source]

At Quartz, Ilaria Maria Sala offers some personal reflections on Liu as a professor and, later, friend:

A voice so free and capable of such sharp analysis should have been cherished by a developing country that, after becoming in the shortest imaginable time the second-largest economy in the world, has been trying to increase its “soft power” and improve its image among people both near and far.

Instead, Liu is considered a criminal, and he and his close family have been suffering under the darkest side of China. His wife, the poet Liu Xia, has been put under house arrest since he was awarded the Nobel prize, where she has been suffering the torments of isolation and deep depression. She suffered from a heart attack two years ago, and was hospitalized. Her brother, Liu Hui, was sentenced to eleven years in prison in 2013 for fraud, in a trial that was widely condemned for its many irregularities. At the time, activists denounced the sentencing of Liu Hui as a clear attempt at intimidating the extended family of Liu Xiaobo.

Far from being the personal sorrow of a friend taken so gravely ill after years of hardship, this is China’s sorrow, too. It has an obsession with control so strong that it is rendered incapable of celebrating its most inspiring people, and of cherishing the wealth that sparks from free minds, free thinking, and diversity. [Source]