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The Nobel certificate and medal is seen on the empty chair where this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo would have sat, as a portrait of Liu is seen in the background, during the ceremony at Oslo City Hall December 10, 2010. © 2010 Reuters

(New York, June 26, 2017) – The Chinese government should immediately and unconditionally allow 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and his detained wife, Liu Xia, to obtain medical treatment wherever they want, in China or abroad, Human Rights Watch said today. They should also be allowed unfettered access to family, friends, and legal counsel.

Liu Xiaobo’s lawyer, Shang Baojun, reported on June 26, 2017, that Liu was recently transferred from a prison in China’s northeast Liaoning province to a hospital in the provincial capital, Shenyang, where he is being treated for advanced liver cancer. Liu has been arbitrarily detained in prison since being taken into custody in 2008. There has been very little information about his treatment in prison, including whether he has had access to adequate medical care, Human Rights Watch said.

"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.”

Liu, a former professor of literature at Beijing Normal University, wrote on Chinese society and culture with a focus on democracy and human rights and was influential among intellectuals. He was jailed for 21 months after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown for his role in supporting students who had taken part in the peaceful protests.

In 1996, Liu was sentenced to three years of "reeducation-through-labor" as a result of further human rights activities. He was detained again on December 8, 2008, two days before the release, on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of a pro-democracy manifesto called Charter 08, which he helped to draft.

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.
Sophie Richardson

China Director

Liu was formally arrested on June 23, 2009, on suspicion of "alleged agitation activities aimed at subversion of the government and overthrowing of the socialist system." On December 9, 2009, one year after being detained, Liu was formally indicted on charges of "incitement of subversion of state power." On December 25, after a trial that did not meet minimum international standards of due process, Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

On October 8, 2010, the Nobel Committee awarded Liu the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his "long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China." Human Rights Watch named Liu a recipient of its 2010 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism.

Liu Xia, although never charged with any offense, has been held in house arrest since Liu was awarded the Peace Prize in 2010. She has been denied almost all human contact except with close family and a few friends, and has reportedly suffered from severe depression throughout this period.

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.” 

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