Celebrated authors and international literary figures are demanding the release of Liu Xia, as years of house arrest reportedly take a psychological toll on the widow of dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo.
Liu Xia’s mental health has recently worsened, friends of the 57-year-old poet, painter and photographer said, after hopes faded in recent months that she and her brother would be able to leave China.
“She is extremely helpless and hopeless now,” Ye Du, a poet and friend to Liu Xiaobo, told the South China Morning Post.
“The extended house arrest has wrecked her to a point now that there seems to be nothing left in her,” Ye said, calling her psychological condition “fairly awful”.
Liu Xia told her friend, the exiled Chinese writer Liao Yiwu, during a phone conversation early this month that she was “ready to die at home”, after being kept under house arrest for nearly eight years. She has never been charged with any offence by the Chinese authorities.
Chinese officials have maintained that Liu Xia is free, notwithstanding the daily restrictions and surveillance she faces.
But Liu Xia’s friends have said she has been cut off from the outside world since her husband’s death, and is taking medication for depression.
International literary groups have attempted to ratchet up the pressure on Beijing to release Liu Xia.
In videos released by Amnesty International and PEN America on Wednesday, writers and artists advocating for Liu Xia’s freedom called attention to her ordeal by reading her poems.
Participants included Rita Dove, JM Coetzee, Paul Auster, Khaled Hosseini and others.
“Liu Xia’s cry for freedom resonates around the world and rebukes the Chinese government’s hollow claim that she is free,” said Suzanne Nossel, chief executive of PEN America, a New York-based organisation that strives to advance literature, defend free expression and foster international literary fellowship.
Herbert Wiesner, a former president of the PEN centre in Germany, is also collecting signatures from German citizens supporting the call for Liu Xia’s release.
Earlier this week, a German envoy was among five European diplomats who attempted to visit Liu Xia at her flat out of concern about her health but were turned away by officials at the gate to her complex after an identity check.
When Liao, who lives in Germany, revealed Liu Xia’s despair at being unable to leave China in an open letter that gave details of their phone call last month, the exiled writer also disclosed behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts to secure Liu’s release.
In late April, German ambassador to China Michael Clauss and the US renewed calls for Liu to be released from house arrest and allowed to travel overseas, as expectations ebbed that she would be able to leave.
In his letter, Liao also claimed that the German foreign ministry had a plan to secretly collect Liu and take her to an airport to leave the country, and that it had also made arrangements for her treatment and recovery in Germany.
A German foreign ministry source did not confirm Liao’s claims to the Post, but said it had been discussing Liu’s case with the Chinese government and would continue to do so.
When Liu Xiaobo died at age 61 in a Liaoning hospital on July 13, he became the first Nobel Peace Prize winner to die in custody since German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky in 1938 under Nazi rule.
Since Liu Xiaobo was serving an 11-year jail sentence for subversion when he was awarded the prize, he was represented at the 2010 ceremony in Oslo by an empty chair.
The human rights activist was jailed in 2009 after co-authoring a petition known as Charter 08 that called for sweeping political reforms in China.