The wife of an imprisoned Chinese dissident who won the Nobel Peace Prize remained out of contact for a second day yesterday, making it hard to confirm whether authorities had allowed her to meet with her husband and tell him about the award.
The brother of dissident Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) said that as of Saturday night, authorities had arranged a meeting for yesterday in Jinzhou, the dreary northeastern industrial city where Liu is imprisoned. However, Liu Xiaoxuan (劉曉暄) said he had been unable to contact his sister-in-law, Liu Xia (劉霞), or her brother who was traveling with her.
The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy reported that the meeting had taken place, citing another brother saying police confirmed it.
The confusion surrounding the meeting underscored the difficult predicament the Chinese government faced over the award to a dissident it brands a criminal.
In naming him, the Nobel committee honored Liu Xiaobo’s more than two decades of advocacy for human rights and peaceful democratic change — from the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989 to a manifesto for political reform that he co-authored in 2008 and which led to his latest jail term.
While the announcement cheered many in the fractured, persecuted dissident community and brought calls from the US, Germany and others for Liu Xiaobo’s release, Beijing reacted angrily. It warned Norway’s government that relations would suffer, even though the Nobel committee is an independent organization.
A slight, 54-year-old literary critic, Liu Xiaobo is in the second year of his 11-year prison term, and it was unclear whether he knew about the Nobel. News of the award has been largely kept out of China’s state-controlled media. Chinese regulations allow prisoners one monthly visit with family and Liu Xia previously said police prohibited her from talking about the Nobel nomination during her visit last month.
Liu Xia’s cellphone remained cut off. Her husband’s lawyer, Shang Baojun (尚寶軍), as well as a few close friends said they had not been able to contact her and had no information on whether the meeting took place.
Shortly after the Nobel announcement, Liu Xia said she was negotiating with police to visit her husband on Saturday to deliver the news. Later that night, after her cellphone service was turned off, family members said police escorted her to Jinzhou, a city 500km from Beijing.
Police put up a roadblock about 1.5km from Jinzhou Prison, which sits amid run-down factories on the outskirts of the city. Police stopped foreign reporters and prohibited them from getting closer, while local cars and trucks were waved through.
The roadblock was removed by early afternoon and security forces gradually left the area — a possible sign that the meeting had occurred.
Even after any meeting, it is unclear whether Liu Xia would be allowed to return to Beijing. Police often sequester political critics, religious dissenters and sometimes their family members around sensitive events, often putting them up in guesthouses outside the city and keeping them out of the way for days and weeks.