In China, imprisoned Nobel laureate's wife 'denied' medical treatment

A hospital in Beijing refused to treat Liu Xia, whose activist husband Liu Xiaobo was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, to the fury of China's rulers.

Kin Cheung/AP
Pro-democracy protesters shave their heads in front of the banner featuring a portrait of Liu Xia, the detained wife of Chinese Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo during a demonstration in Hong Kong Friday, Feb. 14. The banner reads 'Free Liu Xia.'

The wife of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who was jailed for drafting a pro-democracy petition, is being denied urgently needed medical treatment, family friends say.

Liu Xia has herself been under house arrest since her activist husband was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, infuriating China's government. Since then, authorities have refused Ms. Liu's requests to be allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment, according to her lawyer, Mo Shaoping, while a local hospital has refused to admit her.

Ms. Liu suffers from a heart condition according to Wu Wei, a writer who talked to her on the telephone last Friday. Friends say she has also been plunged into deep depression by prolonged solitary confinement at home in Beijing

“She says she has been driven nearly mad” by solitary isolation under house arrest, says Mr. Mo, who has been allowed to correspond with her.

Mr. Liu is four years into an 11 year jail sentence on subversion charges arising from his role in drafting “Charter 08," a pro-democracy petition calling on the ruling Communist party to relinquish its monopoly on power and begin to allow more voices to speak in public. He has been in and out of jail during a two-decade-long, non-violent struggle for civil rights that has earned him the wrath of China's government and praise from international human rights defenders.

His wife, an artist and writer, was confined to her Beijing apartment almost immediately after the Nobel Prize committee announced his prize. 

Ms. Liu has not been charged with or convicted of any crime. Policemen outside her door prevent her from leaving, except for occasional food shopping trips or monthly jail visits to her husband. She is rarely allowed to receive visitors, has no access to the internet, and until last month was forbidden to use a telephone.

In what Ms. Liu called “simple persecution,” her brother, real estate executive Liu Hui, was last June sentenced to 11 years in jail on fraud charges. He had been his sister’s main source of financial support and his imprisonment – punishment for being her brother - cast her into despair, friends say.

Hospital discharge

She was allowed a phone for emergency use after suffering chest pains and being rushed to hospital in mid-January, says Wu. But ten days ago, when she was taken to Shijingshan hospital in Beijing for two weeks of tests and treatment, the hospital forcibly discharged her after only a day with no explanation, according to Mo.

“Either the policemen who followed her everywhere disturbed the hospital administration or the police told the hospital to send her away,” says Mo.

“She sounded weak and unwell on Friday,” says Wu, who spoke to her that day on the phone. “I don’t think she can get proper medical treatment in China because she is the wife of the most politically sensitive man in the country. The authorities will not lift her house arrest.”

Nor will they let her go abroad, worries Mo, because if she left the country “she would be beyond the government’s control, able to meet anyone she wanted to and say anything she wanted to.”

Beijing worries that this would pose a threat. “They keep her under house arrest, even though it is completely illegal, because they are weak and afraid,” says Mo.

“Liu Xia has broken no law,” adds Wu, who writes under the pen name Ye Du. “The government should end her house arrest and grant her basic human rights to work, see friends and relatives, and seek medical treatment.”

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