Two years after his Nobel peace prize, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) remains imprisoned, relatives are under house arrest or cowed into silence and, supporters say, the democratic change he sought seems further away than ever.
As the Nobel committee in Oslo prepares to award this year’s prestigious prize today, the dissident writer remains the world’s only jailed Nobel peace laureate, with more than seven years left to go of a prison term for subversion.
Little is now known about Liu, 56, and his current condition — he is said to suffer from hepatitis — due to a curtain of silence drawn across him and his family by China’s government, which was deeply embarrassed by the award and reacted angrily.
This makes it difficult to confirm whether Liu is even still at the prison in Liaoning Province, where he was initially jailed.
Liu’s wife, Liu Xia (劉霞), remains under house arrest at their home in Beijing to prevent her speaking about her husband’s case, while his brothers continue to decline media interviews for fear of losing their occasional visitation rights to him.
“I don’t have any information about Liu Xiaobo and I have been unable to reach Liu Xia,” said Dai Qing (戴晴), a fellow activist who is close to the couple.
Liu, who was jailed previously for his involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests, was sentenced in 2009 to 11 years in jail for “attempted subversion of power” after co-authoring a bold manifesto for democracy in China.
China lashed out after his 2010 Nobel prize and refused to allow him to attend the ceremony in Oslo — where he was represented instead by an empty chair.
Liu’s supporters say his cause is in danger of being forgotten and have called for greater foreign pressure on Beijing.
“The international community must address the ongoing repression of rights in China and urge the country’s current and soon-to-be leaders to ... [respect] the fundamental rights of all Chinese citizens,” Freedom Now founder Jared Genser wrote in an essay for the Huffington Post news Web site.
“The release of Liu Xiaobo, or at least the end of the house arrest of Liu Xia, which, if you recall, is totally illegal, would be a way to send a signal” that China was willing to respect rights, said Jean-Philippe Beja, a French translator of Liu’s writings.
However, Beja, a close friend of the family who said he has been unable to reach Liu Xia, added he was “not very optimistic in the short term.”
Dai said China’s rights situation could worsen if hardline CCP propaganda chief Liu Yunshan (劉雲山) is elevated to the top echelon of power at next month’s party congress.
“If that is the case, and if it is he who will oversee ideology, there will no longer be any hope. China will enter a period of darkness,” she said.