Liu Xiaobo’s Wife Speaks as Thousands Protest Couple’s Imprisonment

Liu Xia, wife of jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, has given her first interview in 26 months, less than a week before the 2012 Nobel ceremony next Monday. Liu Xia has been under house arrest since the announcement of her husband’s award in 2010, but a team of journalists from the Associated Press was able to enter her apartment when guards deserted their posts to have lunch. From Isolda Morillo and Alexa Olesen:

Breathless from disbelief at receiving unexpected visitors into her home and with a shaking voice, Liu Xia told The Associated Press in her first interview in more than two years, that her ongoing house arrest has been a painfully surreal experience. She said she has been confined to her duplex apartment in downtown Beijing with no Internet or outside phone line and only allowed weekly trips to buy groceries and visit her parents.

Once a month, she is taken to see her husband who is four years into an 11-year prison term for subversion for authoring and disseminating a sweeping call for democratic reform known as Charter ’08.

[…] “I felt I was a person emotionally prepared to respond to the consequences of Liu Xiaobo winning the prize. But after he won the prize, I really never imagined that after he won, I would not be able to leave my home. This is too absurd. I think Kafka could not have written anything more absurd and unbelievable than this.”

[…] “I can’t remember [when I last saw my husband],” she said. “I don’t keep track of the days anymore. That’s how it is.”

Watch the AP video of the interview:

See also photographs of an emotional Liu Xia taken by the AP.

On Tuesday, a group of 134 Nobel laureates wrote to Party General Secretary Xi Jinping, urging him to release Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia [.pdf]:

On December 25, 2009, your government sentenced Dr. Liu, a highly respected intellectual and democracy advocate, to 11 years in prison for “inciting subversion.” The charges were based on his political essays and co-authorship of “Charter 08,” which called for peaceful political reform in China based on the principles of human rights, freedom, and democracy. Shortly after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded Dr. Liu its Peace Prize, the government placed Liu Xia under house arrest, where she remains cut off from the outside world two years later without charge or the benefit of any legal process. In response to the continued detentions of Dr. Liu and Liu Xia, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, an independent and impartial body of experts, issued Opinions No. 15-16/2011, finding their detentions to be in violation of international law; however, despite this finding their cases remain unresolved.

Across all disciplines, the distinguishing feature which led to our recognition as Nobel Laureates is that we have embraced the power of our intellectual freedom and creative inspiration to do our part to advance the human condition. No government can restrict freedom of thought and association without having a negative effect on such important human innovation. Indeed, we Laureates are distressed that your government continues to block access to the main Nobel Prize web site (www.nobelprize.org).

Archbishop Desmond Tutu also launched a public petition calling for the couple’s release, which has now almost reached 200,000 signatures. Another letter came from within China on Tuesday, from a group of 40 activists including Hu Jia, legal scholar He Weifang and rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang:

Inside China and abroad, people are hoping to see signs for political reform as China ushers in new leadership. Systematic political changes are complex and many-faceted, requiring rational deliberation and orderly actions, and we would like to see various social forces working together to advance this process.

we propose the followings as initial steps for political and social change:

1.Initiate legal procedures immediately to reverse the wrong verdict against Dr. Liu Xiaobo, and set him free as soon as possible;

2.Immediately lift the restrictions imposed on Liu Xia, Liu Xiaobo’s wife, ending forced isolation, and allowing her to live her normal life;

3.Immediately free those who have been detained or sentenced for their political stand, expression, or religious beliefs;

4.Immediately cease surveillance of people who hold independent political positions or/and expressing independent opinions, and remove all forms of restrictions on their freedom of movement.

We believe that the existence of political prisoners does not help China to build its image of a responsible world power. Ending political imprisonment is an important benchmark for China to move toward a civilized political system.

China faces complex problems, and reform is a difficult endeavor that requires all the effort from all the people.

The BBC reports that signatures added since Tuesday have brought the total to almost 300.

Any hope that the new Party leadership might be receptive to these requests will be dampened by news that Norwegians, alone in Europe, will be ineligible for Beijing’s new 72-hour visa waiver scheme. Their exclusion appears to be an extension of the feud against Norway that began with the announcement of Liu’s award. According to The Financial Times, a travel administration official declined to confirm this suspicion, but said that “some countries were not eligible because their citizens or government were ‘of low-quality’ and ‘badly behaved’.”

The state-owned Global Times accused the 134 Nobel laureates of ignoring China’s progress and—despite the presence on the list of figures such as the Dalai Lama—of opposing “non-Western” ideologies.

In recent years, the choice of the Nobel Peace Prize winners, from US President Barack Obama in 2009 to this year’s pick of the European Union, has increasingly made the public scratch its head. Certainly, the decision to award the prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo infuriated Chinese society.

It seems that the Nobel Committee has missed the real focus of the world, and consequently has seen its influence dwindling.

Among these 134 members, we wonder how many of them have first-hand experience of China, let alone are aware of the changes that have taken place in terms of China’s political freedom in recent years.

By speaking with one voice, the 134 Nobel laureates have only demonstrated their firm opposition to non-Western ideologies. In their eyes, a few dissidents speak for all of China. A sense of moral superiority still persists among Western elites and their followers.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei also condemned the letter. From the BBC:

“China is a law-abiding country. Liu Xiaobo was lawfully sentenced to a fixed-term imprisonment by the judicial organ because he committed an offence against Chinese law,” he said.

“The Chinese government opposes outsiders handling matters in any way that would interfere in its judicial sovereignty and internal matters.”

On the other hand, he congratulated Mo Yan, who he said “loves his country and people”.

In fact, Mo Yan also expressed his hope for Liu Xiaobo’s release after being named the 2012 Literature Prize winner in October. His public support surprised critics who had accused him of being a government puppet. But Tom Hancock wrote at the AFP that Mo is unlikely to mention Liu again while in Sweden to receive his prize:

Mo Yan has long trodden a fine line between criticising China’s political establishment and cooperating with it, said Ma Xiangwu, a literature professor at the People’s University in Beijing.

“For a long time Mo has occupied a position within the system, but not totally within it,” he said. “His works are often very critical of society and politics — he’s too complex to be put in a box.”

In keeping with that, he said there was “absolutely no chance” Mo would refer to Liu in his Nobel lecture.

“He won’t mention sensitive issues during his speech. I think he will be quite moderate. I don’t think he will directly criticise the government… but I also don’t expect he will heap extravagant praise on China,” he added.

Sure enough, Mo told a press conference in Stockholm on Thursday that “I have already issued my opinion about this matter”, and that his prize is for literature, not politics. Chinese media, meanwhile, have preferred to focus on whether Mo will wear a tuxedo or a Mao suit to next week’s ceremony, or one of the three other outfits he is said to have taken with him when he left on Wednesday.

See also ‘You Wait for Me with Dust‘, a poem from Liu Xiaobo to Liu Xia (via Tania Branigan), and more on Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xia, Mo Yan and the Nobel Prizes at CDT.