Since the death of imprisoned Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo last July, the extra-legal house arrest his wife Liu Xia has endured since his award in 2010 has continued despite hopes for her release. Following months of delays, her friend and fellow writer Liao Yiwu has released his account of a recent phone call with a despairing Liu Xia, together with an audio recording. Human Rights Watch’s Sophie Richardson commented on Twitter that "even if you do not speak a word of Chinese, [Liu’s] agony here is absolutely, excruciatingly clear” in the posted audio. Its publication, with Liu’s consent, is part of a broader shift towards a more vocal approach from supporters who had remained quiet in an effort to avoid derailing her release. From Liao, at China Change:
On April 30, 2018, at 4:00 p.m. in Germany, I spoke to Liu Xia at her home in Beijing. She said: “Now, I’ve got nothing to be afraid of. If I can’t leave, I’ll die in my home. Xiaobo is gone, and there’s nothing in the world for me now. It’s easier to die than live. Using death to defy could not be any simpler for me.”
I felt like I’d just been shocked with a jolt of electricity. I told her to wait. I know that the Chinese Ministry of State Security agents that have been holding her under house arrest, since Xiaobo passed away last July and Liu Xia was forcibly taken to Dali in Yunnan for a while, have been promising her, again and again, guaranteeing that she’d be able to leave the country and seek treatment for her deep clinical depression. First they told her to wait until the 19th Party Congress was over; next they told her to wait until the conclusion of the ‘Two Sessions’ in Beijing in March of this year. On April 1, before Liu Xia’s 57th birthday, the German Ambassador called her to convey Chancellor Merkel’s special respects, and invited her to play badminton in Berlin before long.
According to my information, in early April the German Foreign Minister had already made specific arrangements, including as to how they’d not alert the news media, how they’d covertly collect Liu Xia at the airport, and how they’d arrange her treatment and recovery and more. In my own calls with Liu Xia, I sought Liu Xia’s opinions many times, and discussed the matter in meetings and correspondence with good friends Herta Muller, Harry Merkle, Carolin, Silvia, and the international representative of Liu Xia’s photographic art Peter Sillem. We went over every possible detail. Due to Herta Muller’s support, the Literature House in Berlin was willing to provide her an apartment for an interim period, Carolin and Silvia were going to prepare an application for a DAAD (‘Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst’) scholarship for artists, and Peter Sillem had already reached out to hospitals and experts on her behalf.
We’ve all been patiently and quietly waiting. [Source]
Since the tragic death of #LiuXiaobo, while it has been noted that the last Nobel laureate who died in state custody was Carl Ossietzky in 1938 Nazi Germany, but nobody has pointed out that even under Nazi Germany his wife, Maud Ossietzky, was not treated as viciously as #LiuXia. https://t.co/BHYHQO9Mah
— Michael Caster (@michaelcaster) May 2, 2018
Liao told South China Morning Post’s Mimi Lau that "we want as many organisations and individuals to hear Liu Xia’s own voice" ahead of an impending visit to China by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "There has been no progress, only stalling," he said, despite repeated reported official promises that Liu could go free. "We have kept quiet for too long, so this time we must achieve our goal."
Reuters’ Christian Shepherd reported last month on Chinese authorities’ repeated delays, citing a Western diplomat who said that "the case has so far been handled discreetly in the expectation that she would soon be permitted to leave the country." In the same report, HRW’s Richardson argued that foreign governments and NGOs needed to "raise the cost" of holding Liu by raising her case more loudly, and that "it’s not a complicated diplomatic thing. It’s about making it more painful for Beijing to keep her than release her."
The lack of results to date has now spurred a more vocal approach from foreign governments as well as from Liu and Liao. SCMP’s Lau reported last week on renewed calls for Liu’s freedom from Germany and the U.S.:
“We are hoping for a swift, positive conclusion of her case,” Germany’s ambassador to China, Michael Clauss, told the South China Morning Post in an exclusive interview.
[…] But with no recent progress, observers now say that it is unlikely her situation will change any time soon.
[…] “I should think not … [She is expected to] attract a good bit of media coverage and may potentially become a rallying point for Chinese dissidents overseas,” [SOAS China Institute director Steve] Tsang said. “Why would Xi allow that to happen?”
[… T]he Post has learned from sources that Liu’s case was “well beyond the control of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Ministry of Public Security”.
“It is actually being managed at a higher level,” according to a source with direct knowledge of her situation. [Source]
For now, the kind of "soft" detention suffered by Liu appears only to be growing more common, as the temporary house arrest last month of Li Wenzu, wife of missing rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, illustrated. Japan’s Asahi Shimbun addressed these cases in an editorial on Tuesday:
China has not just sent many critics of the communist government to jail but has also deprived their families of freedom.
Such outrageous human rights violations must not be allowed to continue.
[…] There are many other families that are trapped in similar plights in China. Liu Xia’s predicament is just one symbolic story about the serious human rights situation in today’s China.
[…] What is the Chinese Communist Party so afraid of? Is the party not confident that it is supported by the people of its own country?
If it is proud of how it has led China’s economic growth and rise to wealth, the party should be able to take a fair and open-minded attitude toward dissenting voices.
[…] The international community including Japan needs to keep close watch on the human rights situation in China and continue speaking against any abuse by the Chinese government. [Source]