China 'steals wife's freedom' to pressurise Liu Xiaobo

Nobel Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo Nobel Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo was convicted of subversion in 2009

China's Communist rulers are trying to force the country's jailed Peace Prize laureate into going into exile by putting pressure on his wife, who is not well, the BBC has been told.

A source close to the family has told us that Liu Xiaobo will not agree to leave China as that would lead to his voice being marginalised.

But the source said that Liu Xiaobo's wife Liu Xia is "suffering mentally" because she has now spent two years under illegal house arrest and continues to be detained.

It was exactly two years ago when Liu Xiaobo, a soft-spoken academic, won the Peace Prize for his calls for peaceful political reform in China.

He never collected it as he was already in a jail in China, where he remains, convicted of subversion.

His wife Liu Xia, an even softer-spoken poet and photographer, has been similarly silenced. She's being held in her own flat in Beijing.

She's been there for two years, detained just a couple of days after her husband was announced as the 2010 winner.

And Norway too is, it seems, still being punished. The prize has nothing to do with the Norwegian government.

But China continues to snub Norwegian ministers, diplomats and politicians, according to other diplomats in Beijing.

Start Quote

Liu Xia effectively ceases to exist, both as a human being and as an issue”

End Quote Joshua Rosenzweig Human rights expert
Tight control

But the BBC has spoken to an individual in contact with Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia's families, who has given some new insights into the couple's situation.

The individual asked that we don't name them, and told us that Liu Xiaobo is in reasonable health, but his stomach problem "is getting worse".

China's authorities allow only three people to visit Liu Xiaobo in Jinzhou prison where he's being held: his two brothers who can see him about once every six months, and his wife who sees the Nobel Peace Prize winner every two to three months, the source said.

They have to ask for permission in advance and wait for notification.

"They are not allowed to go and visit him together. Only one person is allowed each time. And the police watch them during the entire meeting," our source told us.

"They are forbidden to talk about anything else other than family matters. The police don't want the family to bring in any information from outside to Liu Xiaobo."

The two brothers did visit together once, in September last year. That was to inform Liu Xiaobo that his father had died. He was then allowed a brief visit home to pay his respects before he was whisked back to jail.

His wife, Liu Xia, meanwhile, has not committed any crime in China but is being held in her home.

"There are two policewomen living with her in her apartment. And lots of plain-clothes police watching the compound constantly," our source told us.

Photographs from The Silent Strength of Liu Xia exhibition at the City University Hong Kong Liu Xia's latest photo exhibition, on display in Hong Kong, focuses on the suffering of Chinese people

"Liu Xia's health is not very well. Mentally she suffers a lot because of the loss of personal freedom and the worries about her jailed husband."

"She is allowed to go out and visit her mother and meet one of her best friends roughly once a month, escorted by policewomen the entire time. Other than visits to her husband, that's it.

"She is not allowed to go anywhere else, not even to the park or shop. And no-one is allowed to even approach her compound, let alone visit her."

The individual added: "What the government is doing to Liu Xia is illegal. They do this routinely to dissidents in order to prevent them speaking to the press and tainting the government's image.

"Her husband is currently the most famous dissident in China, so she suffers tighter control than other dissidents."

'Very cruel'

His view is backed up by Joshua Rosenzweig, a human rights researcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who said he was "not aware of any legal authority for restricting Liu Xia's liberty".

"Her relegation to this ambiguous zone appears to be deliberate, because if you can't treat [her detention] as something sanctioned or even covered by law, then how do you begin to challenge it? Liu Xia effectively ceases to exist, both as a human being and as an issue," he said.

Start Quote

The government wants Liu Xiaobo to leave because the fact that a Nobel Peace Prize winner is in jail is a reminder of China's poor human rights situation”

End Quote Friend of Liu Xiaobo's family

China's government insists Liu Xia is not being held against her will. But Mr Rosenzweig says its aim is to silence Liu Xia, her husband and their families, so there is no news about the jailed laureate.

"One of the few ways the outside world has to learn anything about individuals who have been imprisoned in China is through what their relatives learn and observe during periodic prison visits," he says.

"I don't know the last time that Liu Xia was able to visit her husband, but I am fairly certain that any interaction she has been able to have with him has been under the precondition that she remain silent.

"To the extent that this reflects an official strategy to counter Liu Xiaobo's influence, it would have to be deemed successful. There's only so much interest that can be sustained by a person's continued absence.

"That's why you don't see too many headlines proclaiming 'no news of Nobel laureate again this month'."

And the friend of the family who spoke to the BBC says that, by being so harsh on his wife, China is trying to pressure Liu Xiaobo into cutting a deal to go into exile.

"The government is trying to force Liu Xiaobo to leave China by taking his wife's personal freedom away. At the same time, the government threatens both their families, saying if they try to speak to the media or leak any information their right to visit Liu Xiaobo will be taken away.

"This is very cruel. It has forced the family to keep quiet."

But, the family friend added, Liu Xiaobo will not agree to leave China, despite the fact that his prison term lasts until 2020.

"The government has always wanted Liu Xiaobo to leave China because the fact that a Nobel Peace Prize winner is in jail, is a constant reminder of China's poor human rights situation.

"When previous dissidents have left China their voices gradually fade and their influence disappears. That's why Liu Xiaobo insists he'll stay even if it means staying in jail. Remaining in China is what's significant for him."

Damian Grammaticas Article written by Damian Grammaticas Damian Grammaticas China correspondent

Uncovering China's illegal ivory trade

Demand for ivory in China has pushed levels of poaching to new highs. The BBC's Damian Grammaticas investigates China's illegal ivory traders.

Read full article


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    54 Minutes ago
    Don't buy Chineese goods until they adopt a 'even slightly' more inclusive form of Government, simple"
    China CCP has a higher approval rating than either bush or Gordon Brown. Dont buy products from china who cares, but then dont ask China to bail your country out or come to your aid at the UN, when Wall Street tells the president to come for your Oil. The Days when the Europe could tell the world waht to do are over, I suggest you get used to it fast. small manufactured products, China has higest productivity in the world,good lucking finding elsewhere

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    The Chinese government will hold on to its grip of power until they are forced to let go, but the population seems to be in the grip of state-enforced ignorance and apathy and the global community has too much to lose to try and help those suffering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Tell ya why the Chinese don't like or want this guy in China.

    Liu wants the backdoors of the Great Wall of China opened for foreign invasion, leading to a western take over of the country and he wants western masters to govt China.

    He loves the old Hong Kong, so send him to the UK and let him stay with all the other Chinese millionaires that escaped with China's money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    @ schneetag

    The reason Liu is less known in China than in the West is that the state-controlled media and state-strangled web do not carry information about dissidents or their activities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Communists. Don't you just love them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Slow News day eh ? Why not talk about something positive.
    The UK just forced 2 British Born Citizens into exile because they ran a website that alledely expressed solidarity with fighters in Afghanistan. They didnt do anything violent, but are accused of 'promoting' and providing 'material' support.
    your a joke no credibility, hopefully the next BBC China correspodent will be less of a Neoconservative, or even better the BBC looses funding

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Liu might be famous here with wide media coverage but is little known in China, let alone being supported. Liu's idea is very provocative. Some Chinese are not happy with the government, but are not necessarily his supporters. We have to be careful when drawing the equation between suppressing Liu and suppressing all Chinese people. Liu is no comparison to other political leaders in the world. I suspect the media chose him just for the sake of being different.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    It's long past time for a complete trade boycott and a suspension of cultural links. China has been playing the sinophobia card and whining about respect for too long, Let's tell them respect must be earned and sinophobia is the natural consequence of Chinese policy. Only the US and Israel match China in this respect. If we care about freedom, we must use humour, satire and economic sanctions against them all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Liu Xiaobo and his wife are political prisoners in a State where information control is imperative. Bradley Manning is a political prisoner in a State where information control is deeply hidden behind walls of pretence. Do not confuse America with a "model state." There is much dust in China's eye, but the analogy does not stop in Asia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    China's got the hang of Capitalism, but the human rights thing is lagging behind a bit.

    It'll happen.

    Once people have got enough money they'll want Human rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Don't buy Chineese goods until they adopt a 'even slightly' more inclusive form of Government, simple. Take away the thing that these Dictators cherish most....Money....They fiddle their Moneys' Exchange Rate, they have Illegal subsidies on exports, they fiddle and make up their own Legal System and are quite happy to ride roughshod over their own populations. Well China, I'm not scared of you, infact au contraire. It's a shame our Politicians aren't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    lol @ 14 responses.

    Keep buying the iPhones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Lui is not wanted by the Chinese not even here, the expats here don't like him and they don't the other Chinese guy that went to NYC.

    What's his name?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Surely he has downloaded some USA video or music and the PRC can ask USA to extradite him to face charges there? I thought transportation-by-proxy was the way the world dealt with undesirables now?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    The transition in China over the past few years reminds me very much of the US after WW2. The US gradually began to try to influence many countries and its own citizens though the use of propaganda and there was much collateral damage. The US has transitioned into a model state, lets hope the same for China.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    This is indeed sad. Still, if China has managed to get everyone to forget it killing hundreds of students in Tiananmen Square, 1989, then it should have no trouble getting this one to blow over, right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Nobel prize often a political tool and used to draw attention and support to someone fighting a cause., which serves more the interest of the west.
    Democracy the word hear against Cuba Venazuela Syria but not against Oil rich middle east countries or central asian countries who allow US bases, is it a new kind weapon to serve past imperelists' interest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    So, you guys want over one billion people to insurrect?

    Like that will make the world a friendlier, fluffier place?


  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    If he goes and collect the WMD money from Norway then he can pay his way into Canada, we want his money just as well as all the $120 billions from the Chinese millionaires from China that has come here in the last 20 years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I agree with Mr. Chong, he should go exile. Chinese people need more inspirations to come out and voice their opinion. He can contribute more to chinese people and help them understand the value of freedom of speech and Democracy.


Page 3 of 4



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.