Dying dissident Liu Xiaobo must be allowed to travel, UK and EU urge China
Beijing asked to lift restrictions on medical treatment and location as Nobel laureate suffers from late-stage cancer in hospital
Britain and the European Union have joined a growing chorus of voices calling for China to completely free its most famous political prisoner as Germany said it was losing trust in Chinese authorities after images of a hospital visit by foreign doctors were leaked to state media.
A spokesperson for the British embassy in Beijing said Britain had “repeatedly expressed serious concern at the treatment of Liu Xiaobo”, the dissident and Nobel laureate, who is close to death.
“We continue to urge the Chinese authorities to ensure Liu Xiaobo has access to his choice of medical treatment, in a location of his choice, and to lift all restrictions on him and his wife Liu Xia,” the spokesperson added.
A spokesperson for the EU delegation in Beijing said it had discussed the activist’s case with the authorities and asked “that China immediately grant Mr Liu parole on humanitarian grounds and allow him to receive medical assistance at a place of his choosing in China or overseas”.
In an earlier statement the EU had said it also expected China “to remove all limitations on the movements of Mr Liu’s wife and family members”.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, rejected the appeals. “We hope the relevant countries will respect China’s judicial sovereignty and will not use so-called individual cases to interfere in China’s internal affairs,” he told reporters in Beijing.
Liu, a veteran democracy activist and writer who became a lifelong campaigner after witnessing the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer in May while serving an 11-year prison sentence for subversion. He was released on medical parole on 26 June, and has since been held, reportedly under police guard, in a hospital in north-east China, where authorities insist he is receiving “meticulous treatment”.
Germany’s intervention, in the form of a statement from its Beijing embassy, followed a hospital visit by a German and an American doctor. The foreign doctors said they believed Liu was well enough to be moved overseas, despite Chinese claims to the contrary.
The German embassy statement expressed “deep concern” that images from the visit had been leaked to China’s Communist party controlled media, apparently by Chinese security services.
The “audio and video surveillance” – which has been reproduced by state newspapers such as the Global Times in an apparent bid to counter criticism of China’s treatment of the dissident – had been made “against the expressed wishes of the German side, which were communicated in writing prior to the visit,” the embassy said.
“It seems that these recordings are being leaked selectively to certain Chinese state media outlets. It seems that security organs are steering the process, not medical experts,” the statement added. “This behaviour undermines trust in the authorities dealing with Liu’s case, which is vital to ensure maximum success of his medical treatment.”
Following the visit of the two doctors, Jared Genser, a US lawyer who represents Liu and is lobbying for his evacuation, called on the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, to immediately free his client. He said Liu had expressed a desire to receive treatment in Germany or the United States, with hospitals in both countries ready and willing to take him in.
“President Xi should honour a dying man’s wishes to be able to leave China and to obtain better treatment that is available abroad,” and could extend Liu’s life by several weeks, Genser said.
“My view is that not only should this happen, but that this must happen and I also believe that there will be enormous pressure placed on President Xi from the international community to relent,” he added.
Hu Jia, a Beijing-based activist and friend of Liu’s, accused the hospital treating Liu of “slowing down the process” that could lead to his transfer overseas after the hospital released a statement saying the tumour had grown and his liver was bleeding. It said it was preparing for the possibility of taking him into emergency care and family members had been informed.
“It doesn’t show the patient’s situation has deteriorated to the point of falling off a cliff,” Hu said. “I’m not saying it’s not accurate, but the official purpose of today’s statement might be to respond to the foreign experts’ conclusions … [by] emphasising the deterioration of the disease.”
Hu voiced concerns that if there is further delay, “Xiaobo may fall into a vegetative coma state, until he eventually cannot get free.”
Liu was detained in late 2008 for his involvement in a pro-democracy manifesto called Charter 08 and found guilty of incitement to subvert state power – effectively working to topple China’s one-party state – on Christmas Day the following year.
In 2010 he received the Nobel peace prize for his “unflinching and peaceful advocacy for reform”. Unable to attend the award ceremony in Oslo because he was in jail, Liu was represented by an empty chair.
The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is also among those calling for Liu’s release. “This is a historic mistake … this is going to be remembered the whole world,” he said on Sunday.
Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of Pen America, said “the Chinese government’s morality and humanity” would be tested by its decision to allow Liu to leave China or not. “There can be no more powerful indicator of Beijing’s respect for human dignity than their treatment of Liu Xiaobo in this time of need.”
Geng, the foreign ministry spokesperson, rejected the idea that the case of Liu Xiaobo was a “diplomatic question” and said China opposed interventions from foreign countries on the subject.
However, asked repeatedly if those statements indicated that China would refuse Liu permission to leave the country, Geng would not offer a direct response.