China’s best-known political prisoner, the civil rights campaigner and Nobel peace prize winner Liu Xiaobo, has been released on medical parole after he was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer.
Liu, 61, is in the late stages of the disease, said Mo Shaoping, his lawyer, who has been in contact with Liu’s family. Liu is being treated at a hospital in the north-eastern city of Shenyang, near where he was being held. Another of Liu’s lawyers, Shang Baojun, said he was diagnosed in May.
“This type of late-stage cancer is very difficult to treat, it would have been easier if it was discovered sooner,” Shang said. “It’s extremely serious.”
Liu was arrested in 2008 after penning a pro-democracy manifesto called Charter 08, where he called for an end to one-party rule and improvements in human rights. Following a year in detention and a two-hour trial, he was sentenced in December 2009 to 11 years in prison for inciting subversion of state power.
Little has been heard from him since. When he was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2010 he was represented by an empty chair.
Liu Xia, his wife, has been under house arrest since her husband won and has reportedly suffered from depression due to her isolation. She has not been formally charged with a crime despite her nearly seven years in detention. Liu Xia may not know her husband is sick, Mo said, as he has been unable to contact her.
A literary critic and scholar, Liu was previously jailed for two years in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protests and subsequent massacre.
“The Chinese authorities should immediately ensure that Liu Xiaobo receives adequate medical care, effective access to his family and that he and all others imprisoned solely for exercising their human rights are immediately and unconditionally released.”
“The authorities should immediately and unconditionally lift all restrictions on his wife Liu Xia and let the two reunite as soon as possible,” Poon added.
The Shanghai-based legal scholar and human rights activist Zhang Xuezhong told Associated Press that Liu and has family had made a “tremendous sacrifice” for the cause of freedom and democracy in China.
“This is unfortunate news for him and his family, and it’s a blow to China’s democracy movement, as so many people have placed hope in him, and rightfully so,” Zhang said. “His life is so important that I think he should get the best possible treatment with full knowledge of his family, even if it means some compromises [with the government],” he added.
Liu’s brother-in-law was jailed in 2013 for fraud over a property dispute, but his lawyers claimed the case was politically motivated.
The Norwegian Nobel committee awarded Liu the peace prize for “his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China”.
“Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China,” the committee said in 2010.
The prize infuriated the Chinese government and relations with Norway quickly deteriorated. Normal relations were only restored in December 2016, when the country said it “attaches high importance to China’s core interests and major concerns, will not support actions that undermine them, and will do its best to avoid any future damage to the bilateral relations”.
Last year, in an effort to draw attention to his case, the US Senate voted to rename the street address used by the Chinese embassy in Washington to Liu Xiaobo Plaza, but the bill was vetoed by Barack Obama.
More than 1,400 political dissidents are detained in China, according to a US congressional database, but the number is probably even higher as information about topics deemed sensitive by the ruling Communist party is heavily censored.
Since coming to power in 2012, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, has overseen a wide-ranging crackdown on civil society, including arresting feminist activists, human rights lawyers and book publishers.