(New York) – The Chinese government should immediately lift all restrictions on Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and his wife, Liu Xia, Human Rights Watch said today. The couple should be able to go where they wish for medical treatment, and have unfettered access to family, friends, journalists, and foreign diplomats. Chinese authorities should also stop harassing and intimidating Liu’s friends and others who have voiced support for him.
“Chinese President Xi Jinping has shown astonishing disdain for Liu Xiaobo’s life, from his wrongful imprisonment to his treatment after being transferred to a hospital,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “President Xi could still mitigate some of the harm to his reputation by allowing Liu and his wife to go wherever – and meet with whomever – they wish.”
On June 26, 2017, Liu Xiaobo’s lawyers told the media that Liu, who had been imprisoned since 2009 for his pro-democracy activities, had been “released on bail for medical treatment” and transferred to a hospital in Shenyang, Liaoning province, for treatment of advanced liver cancer. Liu was admitted to the hospital under a pseudonym, preventing journalists and others from locating him.
Other than Liu Xia and her brother, Liu Hui, it is unclear whether family members have been allowed to visit Liu at the hospital. Several people who have tried to visit the hospital describe security as extremely tight. Authorities have told Liu’s family and friends that they are prohibited from speaking to the media. A lawyer for Liu said the authorities had rejected Liu’s request to go abroad for treatment, but the Chinese government has not confirmed this.
Since Liu’s illness became public, more than 1,500 people in China and abroad have signed an open letter calling for his full freedom, despite stringent censorship of news about him on Chinese social media. Police across the country have harassed more than 20 people who signed the letter, ordering them not to speak publicly about Liu, Human Rights Watch has learned.
Fei, a businessman in Zhejiang province, was detained in a police station for nearly 20 hours after he signed the petition in support of the couple. Police in Guangdong province raided a law office and installed a surveillance camera in front of the home of poet Wu Mingliang, known as Lang Zi, after two lawyers and the poet added their signatures to the petition. Guangdong authorities also blocked the incoming phone calls of Wu Yangwei, a dissident writer known by his pen name Ye Du, preventing him from giving interviews about Liu to foreign media.
Beijing police went to the home of Bao Tong, former secretary of the deceased premier Zhao Ziyang, warning him not to publish articles or give interviews to the media. Beijing police also forced activist Zhou Tuo and his wife out of the city. Hu Jia, another Beijing activist, said he has been under house arrest since the morning of June 27 to prevent him from trying to visit Liu Xiaobo in Shenyang. He too had signed the open letter.
Authorities have released little information about Liu’s medical condition. The Shenyang City Bureau of Justice issued a notice stating that prison authorities discovered Liu’s cancer following a routine physical on May 31, and that Liu had been treated by a team of eight experts. On June 28, a video of edited clips surfaced on the internet showing Liu receiving medical exams. In it, Liu praised prison officials and said that he is “very grateful” for the attention paid to his health. The circumstances surrounding the clips are unclear, including whether Liu had consented to the filming, when they were taken, or the precise nature of the exams.
In recent years, media outlets linked to the Chinese government have released videos showing purported confessions of detained activists or clips of them appearing physically well, to dispel criticism of their arrests or suspicions that they were tortured. Some activists, after being released, denounced their statements as forced. Such videos violate basic due process rights and may be connected to torture or other ill-treatment.
“Liu Xiaobo will be remembered for promoting freedom, democracy, and human rights in China,” Richardson said. “President Xi should demonstrate basic human decency and end these cruel, baseless restrictions.”