Letters urge Xi Jinping to free Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo

Liu Xia, wife of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, reacts emotionally to an unexpected visit by journalists at her home in Beijing, China, 6 December 2012
Image caption Liu Xiaobo's wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest for more than two years

Nobel laureates and Chinese activists have called for the release of jailed Chinese Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo in two separate letters to Xi Jinping.

The 134 Nobel laureates asked the new Communist Party head to release Liu, who has been jailed since 2009.

A group of Chinese activists and writers also signed a letter urging Liu's release from inciting subversion.

Meanwhile, Liu's wife has given her first interview since she was placed under house arrest two years ago.

Activist Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 despite the Chinese government's fierce opposition.

He was sentenced in 2009 for helping to draft a manifesto - Charter '08 - calling for political change. He is serving 11 years in jail for inciting the subversion of state power.

His wife, Liu Xia, told the Associated Press news agency her house arrest had been a painful experience.

Image caption Liu Xiaobo received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010

"I felt I was a person emotionally prepared to respond to the consequences of Liu Xiaobo winning the [Nobel] prize. But after he won the prize, I really never imagined that after he won, I would not be able to leave my home," she said.

Her Beijing apartment has no internet or phone access. She is allowed out twice a week to buy groceries and visit her parents, and can see her husband once a month, she says.

"I think Kafka could not have written anything more absurd and unbelievable than this," she said.

'Ending political imprisonment'

The letters come four years after the Charter '08 manifesto and Liu's subsequent jailing.

The Nobel laureates, who include the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, South African Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu and US writer Toni Morrison, made public the letter to Mr Xi on Tuesday.

"As you have taken the first step towards assuming the presidency of the People's Republic of China, we write to welcome the prospect of fresh leadership and new ideas," they wrote.

"To that end, we respectfully urge you to release Dr Liu Xiaobo, the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and his wife, Liu Xia."

Image caption China's Foreign Ministry has praised Nobel prize winner Mo Yan

Mr Xi, China's leader in waiting, was made Communist Party leader during its once-in-a-decade power transition last month.

The Chinese writers, rights activists and lawyers also sent a letter echoing the laureates' sentiment, calling Liu's prison term "a brazen violation of citizens' basic rights".

"We believe that the existence of political prisoners does not help China to build its image of a responsible world power," they said.

"Ending political imprisonment is an important benchmark for China to move toward a civilised political system."

At least 40 signed the letter when it was released on Tuesday, with the number reaching close to 300 on Thursday.

Among those who signed the letter were legal scholar He Weifang, human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and AIDS activist Hu Jia.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, responded to the letter sent by the Nobel laureates on Wednesday.

"China is a law-abiding country. Liu Xiaobo was lawfully sentenced to a fixed-term imprisonment by the judicial organ because he committed an offence against Chinese law," he said.

"The Chinese government opposes outsiders handling matters in any way that would interfere in its judicial sovereignty and internal matters."

On the other hand, he congratulated Mo Yan, who he said "loves his country and people".

The letters come as Chinese writer Mo Yan prepares to receive his Nobel Prize for Literature in Sweden on Monday.

While he has been criticised for not speaking out much on rights issues in China, he has previously called out for Liu Xiaobo to be freed "as soon as possible".

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