Poet and writer Liu Xia has been held incommunicado under extralegal house arrest since her husband, Liu Xiaobo, won the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2010. Over the past several years Liu has suffered from insomnia, depression, and heart trouble. She has only occasionally been able to receive medical attention. 

On June 26, 2017, Liu Xiaobo was released on medical parole to a hospital in Shenyang, Liaoning province for late stage liver cancer. Authorities placed restrictions on access to him but permitted both his wife, Liu Xia, and his family to visit him. Liu Xiaobo died in Liaoning on July 13, 2017. In a July 15 press briefing, a Chinese authority stated that, “Liu Xia is free.” However, Liu Xia remains incommunicado and under strict monitoring by the authorities. 

Case History

Liu Xia, poet, artist, and founding member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, is married to the imprisoned poet, literary critic, and former Independent Chinese PEN Center President, Liu Xiaobo. Liu Xia been under extralegal house arrest ever since her husband won the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2010.

On October 8, 2010, Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland announced from Oslo that Liu Xiaobo was to receive the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize “for his long and nonviolent struggle for human rights in China.” In the hours following the announcement, reporters descended on Liu Xia’s apartment complex in Beijing, and she stated that she planned to give a press conference. Police moved quickly to set up a roadblock at the entrance to the complex, but she was able to give short telephone interviews for several hours. In some of these interviews, she warned that an official promise to bring her to Liu Xiaobo in Jinzhou Prison, so that she could deliver news of the award, had an ulterior motive: “They want to distance me from the media,” she told Reuters shortly before her phone went dead.

Liu Xia returned after visiting Liu Xiaobo in prison on October 10 and turned to Twitter to explain that the authorities had put her under house arrest on Friday evening, shortly after the award announcement, and broken her phone. She said she did not know when she would see anyone but asked everyone to “please help me push.”

Liu Xia’s Internet and phone lines were cut, and friends and family were barred from visiting her, rendering her incommunicado. She was not permitted to fly to Oslo for the December 10 Nobel award ceremony.

In February 2011, Liu Xia managed to obtain a brief Internet connection and sent an urgent message to a friend saying that she and her family were being held hostage by the government and that she was “going to go crazy.”

Liu Xia was completely incommunicado until December 6, 2012, when two AP journalists managed to get past security guards and make a brief visit to the poet in her home. Video shot by the reports showed a shaken and at times overwhelmed figure who can hardly believe she is face to face with visitors. During the subsequent interview, Liu Xia revealed that she was barred from visiting Liu Xiaobo in prison for a year after the Nobel announcement, but she was finally allowed to visit Jinzhou Prison, some 280 miles away, once a month. Still deprived of phone and Internet, she remained cut off from the outside world but for weekly visits with her parents and trips to buy groceries.

At the end of December 2012, a handful of Liu Xia’s friends pushed past security and were able to visit with her for several minutes. Friend and fellow activist Hu Jia recorded the visit. Liu Xia can at times be seen smiling—perhaps at the mere fact that she was finally able to embrace one or two of her friends, whom she hadn’t seen in more than two years—and at times crying, terrified of any repercussions she and her family might face because of the breach.

In April 2013, Liu Xia was finally permitted to be seen in public for the trial of her brother, Liu Hui, who was arrested on trumped-up fraud charges and later sentenced to 11 years in prison. Leaving the courthouse, Liu Xia shouted to reporters from her car window: “I am not free. If they tell you I’m free, tell them I’m not free.”

On the morning of December 3, 2013, friend and Hong Kong-based activist Zeng Jinyan posted on her blog three requests made to the Chinese government by Liu Xia. Zeng Jinyan has not disclosed how she received the information. The requests were as follows:

  • “I request the right to consult a doctor freely;”
  • “I request that Liu Xiaobo and I are allowed the right to read the correspondence we write to each other;”
  • “I request the right to work and receive an income.”

When pressed, the Chinese government has continued to deny that Liu Xia is living under any form of confinement or house arrest and suggested that those who wanted to talk to her could do so. Still, reporters, diplomats, and citizens are stopped by guards at the gates of her apartment complex and denied entry. Liu Xia remains under extralegal house arrest without access to phone, Internet, or post. Many who have attempted to visit her have been detained.

According to Zeng Jinyan, Liu Xia is not willing to see a police-appointed doctor for fear of being interned in a psychiatric hospital, a punishment sometimes used by the Chinese authorities to silence human rights defenders. Regarding her second request, Liu Xia and Liu Xiaobo have not been permitted to read the letters they send to each other.

In January 2014, Liu Xia was rushed to hospital in Beijing after suffering myocardial ischemia (lack of blood flow to the heart). She returned for further tests on February 8, 2014 but was discharged the following day and is said to be in need of specialist medical care. Her phone line was reconnected after her initial hospitalization to enable her to call for help in case of emergency.

Writing by Liu Xia

Five Poems by Liu Xia
Two Poems: “June 2nd, 1989” and “Rant”
Open letter to Xi Jinping
The Poet in an Unknown Prison