China stands firm as pressure grows to release late Nobel laureate’s wife

Liu Xia has been detained at home since Liu Xiaobo won the peace prize in 2010

Liu Xia: wife of veteran Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo remains under house arrest. Photograph:  Reuters/David Gray

Liu Xia: wife of veteran Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo remains under house arrest. Photograph: Reuters/David Gray


International pressure is growing to allow Liu Xia, the wife of the late Nobel Peace Prize-winner Liu Xiaobo, to leave the country if she wants to go abroad. She has been under house arrest for years.

Diplomatic sources in Beijing say intensive discussions are under way with Chinese authorities to grant permission to allow Ms Xia, a photographer and poet, to leave the country.

Liu Xiaobo, who was jailed on subversion charges, died of liver cancer on July 27th and China has been fiercely criticised over its treatment of the Nobel laureate.

Negotiations are proving tricky. Beijing has responded by saying that Mr Liu was a criminal under Chinese law, that he received excellent care and by telling Western countries to back off what it sees as a sovereignty issue.

China has held a firm line saying “she is free” even though she has effectively been under house arrest for seven years since her husband won the peace prize in 2010. She has never been charged.

There are fears that if she were allowed to leave China, she would become a high-profile thorn in the Chinese government’s side, criticising the Communist Party for the way her late husband was treated.

Freedom of movement

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said this week he will keep on pressuring China to allow Ms Xia to leave.

“We’re now focused on his wife and ensuring that she has – or trying to ensure that she has – freedom of movement and if she wants to leave China she should be able to leave China,” Mr Zeid said.

He plans to meet Chinese officials when he returns to Geneva to repeat his call to have restrictions on Ms Xia’s movements removed.

The Chinese foreign ministry rejected calls for her to be allowed to move freely, saying it was a domestic affair and that foreigners were “in no position to make improper remarks” over the handling of Mr Liu’s case.

Ms Xia spent the last few weeks of her husband’s life with him in the hospital in Shenyang. During her time under house arrest, she was allowed to leave her apartment to go and visit her husband in Shenyang once a month. Her friends say she has suffered great mental anguish during her time in unofficial custody.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has reportedly raised the issue with the Chineses president, Xi Jinping, and US secretary of state Rex Tillerson has also called for Ms Xia to be allowed to leave China.

‘Non-release release’

Legal scholar Jerome Cohen, director of the US-Asia law institute at New York University, wrote on his blog that Ms Xia’s case highlighted “what I call NRR – ‘non-release release’, another, lesser-known but insidious form of oppression.”

The nationalist Global Times has addressed the issue in a series of irate editorials. The paper called for the Nobel Peace Prize to be abolished because it subscribed to Western values and was increasingly political, singling out the Tibetan religious leader the Dalai Lama, whom China sees as a dangerous separatist, for particular ire.

In another highly critical editorial, the Global Times accused the West of politicising Ms Liu’s plight.

“After Liu Xiaobo’s death, overseas forces and some Western media outlets have shifted their attention to his wife Liu Xia. Calling for the Chinese government to set Liu Xia free, these forces are deliberately making up new excuses to politicise the issue,” the commentary said.